After graduating as an engineer from the University of New Hampshire in 1946, Lee was hired to work as an assistant in a nascent nuclear physics group at General Electric's Research Laboratory in Schenectady. Those memorable two years led to graduate school in physics at Purdue University.
Career as a Postdoc
In 1955, Lee Grodzins took a postdoc position in Maurice Goldhaber's nuclear physics group at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Lee so wanted to work with Maurice that he took a year-long instructorship at Purdue while waiting for an opening. Maurice gave him the timely problem of determining the properties of the beta-decay products of the radioactive isotope Eu-152. In 1957, near the end of those studies, Lee measured the femtosecond lifetime of one of the daughter states in Sm-152 that is fed by K-electron capture. The technique, still novel, used the neutrino's momentum to produce resonant fluorescence in solid samarium. Its success was the basis for Goldhaber's idea for determining the helicity of the neutrino's spin in a table-top experiment that took only a few weeks. A postdoc experiment, motivated by curiosity and the promise of fun, was the foundation of an experiment of singular significance.
MIT and Beyond
He joined the Physics department of MIT in 1959, retiring in 1998 to direct the R&D group at Niton Corporation, a company he founded in 1987 to develop and market instruments to measure toxic elements in the environment. Four of his instruments won R&D 100 awards, given yearly to the country's 100 most innovative technical products.
Lee, who supervised 21 PhD recipients, has authored more than 150 technical papers and holds more than 50 U.S. patents. He was a Guggenheim Fellow in 1964–65 as well as in 1971–72, and a Senior von Humboldt Fellow in 1980–81. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Purdue University in 1998.
He is especially proud of being a founding member of the Union of Concerned Scientists and that in 2000 he founded Cornerstones of Science, a public library initiative to connect children and adults with science.