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Here’s Your Chance to Buy Your Own Nobel Prize

FIONA MACDONALD
27 MAY 2015

A retired experimental physicist who co-won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1988 is putting his 18-karat gold medal up for online auction, and for most of us, it's our best chance to get our hands on one of the coveted awards - if you can come up with the reserve price of US$325,000, that is.

 

American physicist Leon Lederman was awarded the prize for the discovery of the muon neutrino - a subatomic particle 200 times smaller than an electron - back in 1962, alongside two of his colleagues. But now retired and living in Idaho, he no longer feels he has much use for it.

“The prize has been sitting on a shelf somewhere for the last 20 years,” Lederman told the Associated Press. “I made a decision to sell it. It seems like a logical thing to do.”

The online auction offering the medal closes on Thursday evening US Pacific time, and also contains other covetable scientific memorabilia, including signed portraits of Thomas Edison and polio vaccine-creator Jonas Salk, and a card signed by Alexander Bell.

This is only the 10th Nobel Prize to be auctioned off, and is being sold by auction house Nate D. Sanders, which auctioned two other Nobel Prize medals earlier this year - Simon Kuznets' 1971 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences and Heinrich Wieland's 1927 Nobel Prize in Chemistry - both of which reached almost US$400,000.

But those two prizes were sold by descendants and, according to the auction house, this will only be the second Nobel medal to go on sale while its winner was still alive, and should go for a lot more. The other one belonged to James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA's double helix structure, which went for US$4.1 million last year, before being donated back to its original owner.

Lederman, 92, was the director at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) up until 1989, but he continued to write books, including the popular The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?, work in scientific advancement, and lecture at Columbia University until 2012.

His wife Ellen Lederman put the whole medal thing into perspective, telling The Independent: “Leon has enjoyed owning the Nobel Prize medal for many years, but feels it is time for someone else who shares his love of science to treasure his medal. He hopes this sale raises awareness of physics."

All we know is that we're pretty sure having a Nobel Prize in our trophy cabinet would make for some very interesting dinner table conversation - who's up for pooling funds?