If I Could Remember the Names of These Particles, I Would Have Been a Botanist

Albert Einstein? Enrico Fermi? Leon M. Lederman? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: During the twentieth century the field of physics advanced astonishingly quickly. Researchers discovered a large number of elementary particles. A prominent physicist quipped:

If I could remember the names of all those particles, I’d be a botanist.

Did Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, or somebody else say this?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The remark appeared in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press.

The earliest instance located by QI occurred in a 1963 lecture by the experimental physicist Leon M. Lederman delivered at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

In introducing the elementary particles to a wide audience like this one, I always remember the statement of the great Enrico Fermi who said, “If I could remember the names of these particles, I would have been a botanist.” I will therefore restrict myself to a small fraction of the particles in order to keep the discussion simple. Probably the proton, the neutron, and the electron are familiar to all of you — you may even own some.

Fermi died almost a decade earlier in 1954, but he is the leading candidate. The phrasing of the expression is variable.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading If I Could Remember the Names of These Particles, I Would Have Been a Botanist


  1. 1963 January 9, Brookhaven Lecture Series on Unity of Science, BNL 787, Number 23, Neutrino Physics by Leon M. Lederman (Physics Departments, of Columbia University and Brookhaven National Laboratory), Start Page 1, Quote Page 1, Published by Office of Technical Services, Department of Commerce, Washington D.C. (HathiTrust Full View) link