When Raymond Davis arrived for his first day at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1948, he was advised to “go to the library, do some reading and choose a project of my own,” Davis said years later. “Thus began a long career of doing just what I wanted to do and getting paid for it.” Davis spent most of his career at Brookhaven, a laboratory dedicated to finding peaceful uses for atomic energy. There, he studied neutrinos, tiny elementary particles that interact only through weak subatomic force and gravity. His work helped confirm that fusion reactions generate the energy of the sun.
In his most famous experiment, Davis used underground detectors in South Dakota to find solar neutrinos. His experiments found only a third of the number of neutrinos predicted by mathematical theories, causing physicists to spend decades trying to resolve this discrepancy. Years later, Davis’ experiments were proven to be accurate — although they only were only able to detect one of what was later found to be three “flavors” of neutrinos, explaining why both the mathematical theories and Davis’ experiments were scientifically sound. For his groundbreaking experiments, Davis was awarded both the National Medal of Science in 2001 and the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002.
By Sara Grossman