Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Leon Lederman

Today we interviewed Leon Lederman, Nobel Laureate. He doesn't spend a lot of time at Fermilab, but they still keep an office there for him. We didn't know this at the time, so we looked around for a place to shoot. We were all there, except Luke who had a conflict. Even Elizabeth, our funds coordinator, came to watch the interview. In fact, she was the one Dr. Lederman first spoke to. He wandered up, hands in pockets, while Eliz was working on the laptop on a draft for a grant proposal.

"Are you my person?" He said, smiling. He might have been expecting just a reporter with a notebook.

Meanwhile, we had chosen a classroom in which to set up. It had rows of bright orange plastic chairs, and Stefani rejected my idea of shooting Dr. Lederman in a sea of orange plastic. She opted to place him against a blackboard covered with scrawled equations. She set up the camera and lights, Andrew got the sound gear ready, and I helped here and there. I was a little nervous. Monica sat in one of the plastic orange chairs, reading over our notes. It was then that Eliz walked in and said "Dr. Lederman is here!" I ran over to shake his hand. He seemed a little surprised at all the "gear," saying something like "wow, you guys have a lot of stuff." I told him we weren't quite ready and he agreed to come back in 15 or 20 minutes.

He was soft-spoken, wore a tweed jacket and tennis shoes. He's in his 80s, but was quick and lively and his memory was flawless. I didn't notice, but afterwards Monica and Eliz both pointed out that he was wearing his gold Nobel lapel pin.

He was a great interview subject, and sprinkled his sentences with jokes and wry observations. Interestingly, he was absolutely obsessed with global warming. It seems to be what his full interest has shifted towards --- the legacy we (as guided by this administration, which he held in barely concealed disdain) will be leaving behind and the continuing damage we're doing to the planet. It's a concern that many people seem to develop as they age --- maybe thinking of their own legacy, what impact they have made on the world causes them to think more about the impact we've all made.

Near the end of the interview we asked him more questions about how the Bush administration treats scientists. We were aware that he had been one of the signers of the letter many leading scientists had written to President Bush protesting the administration's attitude towards science and scientists. He directed most of the answers to our persistent questions along those lines towards Bush's environmental policy, but near the end he mentioned that he had heard some "moaning and groaning" about the Bush administration's budget which had just been released. I was dimly aware that some numbers were due to be released, but I didn't quite understand the importance of Feb. 7 in the national science community.

We were about to find out...


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