Retired experimental physicist Leon Lederman is now 92 years old and facing serious health problems and memory loss. So he took to an online auction and sold his 1988 Nobel prize for his co-discovery of subatomic particle called the muon neutrino to cover his costs. The price of Nobel fame online? $765,002.
The Thursday evening online auction finally closed after the winning bid went unchallenged for half an hour.
"I'm shocked it sold at all," his wife, Ellen Lederman says. "We would let little kids play with it and have their picture taken."
Mrs. Lederman told told The Associated Press that the prize sat on the shelf for twenty years. She also indicates that her husband is basically well, other than the dementia he is now coping with.
"It's terrible," she said. "It's really hard. I wish it could be different. But he's happy. He likes where he lives with cats and dogs and horses. He doesn't have any problems with anxiety, and that makes me glad that he's so content."
The sale had not occurred to the Ledermans until Nate D. Sanders Auctions contacted them last month. Lederman and two others won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1988, and afterwards he used his prize money to purchase his vacation retreat, a log cabin in eastern Idaho near the tiny town of Driggs. He lives there happily today and has since retired in 2012.
Lederman told The Associated Press that he couldn't remember the Nobel Prize winning work any longer.
"I don't have any real stories to tell about it," he says. "I sit on my deck and look at the mountains."
According to Nate D. Sanders Auctions, an auction house that focuses on selling sports and entertainment awards, this sale is one of ten that have taken place and this Nobel Prize fetched the fourth-highest price. The auction house also affirms this prize is only the second to be sold by a living winner of the Nobel Prize.
"I think it's above all the awards as most interesting and prestigious a person can get," company spokeswoman, Laura Yntema says. "We're very happy for the Ledermans. We're just very pleased that we were able to get a good price for their Nobel Prize."
The company has kept the buyer's identity private as requested. The highest selling price for a prize of any kind was $861,542; a buyer paid that figure for Orson Wells's 1941 Best Original Screenplay Oscar for "Citizen Kane" in 2011.
In earlier days Leon Lederman used his Nobel Prize and love for physics to educate others. The New York Times reports that he once conversed with passersby on Chicago and New York sidewalks to share his passion for science-an "ask a Nobel laureate a question" opportunity that many lined up to take advantage of.
Lederman is also an author and is typically credited with originating the phrase, "God particle," which refers to the Higgs boson. He also won other awards for his work including the US National Medal of Science and the Wolf Prize in Physics.