The Chemistry Department and the Nobel Prize.

The closest relationship between the Chemistry Department and the Nobel Prize is the receipt of the 2002 Nobel Prize for Physics by Raymond Davis, Jr. Ray Davis came to the Chemistry Department in 1948 and retired compulsorily in 1984. Ray Davis founded experimental solar neutrino science, and was the discoverer of the solar neutrino deficit, which led to the awarding of his Nobel Prize. For more complete discussions of Ray Davis' science and career, see http://www.bnl.gov/bnlweb/raydavis/ and http://www.bnl.gov/chemistry/programs/neutrino.asp. Brookhaven National Laboratory (through the Chemistry,  Physics, and Biology Departments) has been associated with several Nobel Prizes since its founding (see below for a discussion of the Chemistry Department's connections), but the award to Ray Davis represented the first to a full-time member of the BNL scientific staff. The careful reader will have noted that we're discussing a Chemistry Department, and that Ray is a Chemist, and that he received the Nobel Prize in Physics. What gives? For starters, read this. Now that you know the difference between a Nuclear Physicist and a Nuclear Chemist, look at the links in the paragraph above, and you'll see that the analysis of Ray's experiment involved extensive chemistry, so that the awarding of the Prize to a chemist is not such a surprise. The unity of science demands that it is sometimes difficult to identify the the location of the border between chemistry and physics, and we're content with that.

How did Ray Davis' work on neutrinos start? Gerhart Friedlander, the second chair of the Chemistry Department, (1968-1977) tells us how. When Ray Davis arrived in the Department in 1948, he went to the chairman, Dick Dodson, and asked about what what he (Ray) would be assigned to do. Dodson replied that Ray ought to go to the library and find something that he thought would be interesting. Ray did so, and came back a few days later and announced that neutrinos were interesting, and that he'd like to study them. Dodson replied affirmatively, and Ray's research was thus funded. Simple. Neutrinos are ephemeral particles, and hard to detect, so results were sparse in the early years. The support of the Department and the Laboratory, and their confidence in Ray's abilities saw Ray's experiments through lean times in the early years. The rest is history.

The 1992 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Professor Rudolph Marcus of the California Institute of Technology for his work on the theory of electron transfer. Electron transfer is, in a very real sense, both the simplest chemical reaction and the underlying event in almost all reactions. Much of the experimental work confirming the validity of "Marcus Theory" was performed by Norman Sutin and his group in the BNL Chemistry Department. In fact, Professor Marcus was a frequent visitor to the Chemistry Department in the 1950s and 60s. Marcus' theoretical and Sutin's experimental work were performed very much in synchrony. For an account of Norman Sutin's and Rudy Marcus' adventures in electron transfer, see Mona Rowe's article from the Brookhaven Bulletin, October 23, 1992. We should also note that experimental work confirming the behavior of electron transfer in the so-called "inverted region" was performed at Argonne National Laboratory by John R. Miller. John Miller is the current leader of the group at Brookhaven formerly directed by the now-retired Norman Sutin. Both Norman Sutin and John Miller attended the awarding of Rudy Marcus' Nobel Prize.

While not directly related to the work for which some Nobel Laureates received their prizes, the Chemistry Department has hosted several in different capacities over the years. Roald Hoffman, Cornell University (Chemistry, 1981) was an undergraduate summer student under the supervision of nuclear chemist James Cumming in 1957. Henry Taube, Stanford University (Chemistry, 1983) was a frequent visitor in the 1950s while at the University of Chicago. F. Sherwood Rowland, University of California, Irvine (Chemistry, 1995), supervised a graduate student (Samuel S. Markowitz, UC Berkeley) who did his thesis research in the BNL Chemistry Department while Rowland was at Princeton.

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Last Modified: June 28, 2012