Make Good on Your Promises, Particularly Those to Nobel Laureates

July 21, 2016

In 1992 as a young graduate student, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Leon Lederman. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Dr. Lederman is a Nobel Laureate in physics for his contributions to the discovery of the muon neutrino. He is arguably more famous, especially amongst scientists, for nicknaming the then undiscovered Higgs boson the “God Particle”.


Dr. Lederman was invited to give a lecture at one of the weekly seminars that physics students worldwide are strongly urged to attend, and his combined personality traits of cleverness, wit and insight did not fail to educate, entertain and inspire. At least not me. After the lecture, and before whatever else the physics department leadership had planned, Dr. Lederman interacted with the students. We were all in what I call Nerdtopia because he was the first Nobel Laureate we had met and he was on our campus talking to us! When I got my chance to shake his hand, introduce myself and get his coveted autograph, I said to Dr. Lederman something like this: “It’s a pleasure to meet you Dr. Lederman and when I write my first textbook, I’ll send you an autographed copy.” While I was so enthusiastically chatting away, unbeknownst to me, Dr. L. is memorializing my future plan, which will be henceforth referred to as The Promise. Dr. Lederman handed my flyer back to me and inscribed on it was the following: To Trina- Good Luck and You Promised- Leon M. Lederman. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! I’m on the hook for a textbook to a Nobel Laureate in nuclear physics, just like that.


At the time, I was months away from a Master’s degree in condensed matter physics so the textbook writing would have to follow that. And it would also have to be postponed until the doctoral dissertation in nuclear theory was written and successfully defended. As time progressed, coursework, teaching, marriage, divorce, marriage, post-doc, real job occurred. Throughout all of these life events, I have kept the flyer and often thought of The Promise. I have created many documents, presentations, and lectures but the textbook has not yet materialized.


The Promise presented itself front and center almost two months ago when it was announced that Dr. Lederman’s Nobel Prize was to be auctioned off. I realized that time was running out to hold up my end of the deal. I sat in my home office and came up with a plan, while doing some serious self-assessment. I realized a few things about me: 1) this was extremely important to me, despite the fact that it was a one-on-one conversation and I was likely the only one to remember it, 2) I could have and should have written a textbook, 3) I wasn’t stupid enough to promise anything to the other three Nobel Laureates that I had met, conversed with and even dined with, and 4) I was going to do something to close this matter asap.


The first step was to justify in my mind that a printed and bound dissertation was a suitable substitution for this yet unwritten textbook. Check. Next, locate the geographical whereabouts of Dr. Lederman and a means to contact him directly. Search engines provided this information in about three clicks; scary yet efficient. Check. Call the phone number and verify its accuracy*. Check. *No one was home when I called so I left a message that I hoped didn’t sound stalker-like. Got a call back a couple of days later because the Ledermans were on travel to Fermilab when I called. I have a new appreciation for listening to voicemail and returning calls now, because when I saw the area code on my caller ID I was surprised and brimming with excitement. Mrs. Lederman was on the other end of the call and I explained my situation to her regarding The Promise. She did not hesitate to help me fulfill this almost 25 year old commitment. She readily gave me a mailing and email address, and assured me that she would send a photo when my package arrived. So to summarize this personal odyssey, here is the autographed flyer, dissertation, accompanying letter and photograph to document The Promise.


A special thanks to Ellen Lederman for helping me get it done.



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