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May 9, 2002

Electronic newsroom



Raymond Davis Jr. Awarded National Medal of Science

President George W. Bush today named 15 recipients of the National Medal of Science, the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in fields of scientific research. Among the awardees is chemist Raymond Davis Jr., who did his pivotal work at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory.

Davis was the first scientist to detect solar neutrinos, the signature of nuclear fusion reactions occurring in the core of the sun. In research that spanned from 1967-1985, using chlorine detectors located deep underground in a South Dakota gold mine, Davis found only one-third of the neutrinos that standard theories predicted. His results threw the field of astrophysics into an uproar, and, for nearly three decades, physicists tried to resolve the so-called “solar neutrino puzzle.”

Experiments in the 1990s using different detectors around the world eventually confirmed the solar neutrino discrepancy. Davis’s lower-than-expected neutrino detection rate is now accepted by the international science community as evidence that neutrinos have the ability to change into one of three known neutrino forms. This property, called neutrino oscillation, implies that the neutrino has mass. Davis’s detector was sensitive to only one form of the neutrino, so he observed less than the expected number of solar neutrinos.

“I am honored to be recognized by the President for something that has meant so much in my life,” Davis said. “I first read about neutrinos in 1948. Back then, neutrino physics was a brand new field, but it has captivated me now for more than half a century. It hasn’t been work; it’s been fun.”

Davis retired from Brookhaven in 1984, but has an appointment in Brookhaven’s Chemistry Department as a research collaborator.

Related links: 
National Science Board Science Medal website,
Biographical sketch of Raymond Davis Jr.,
Background on solar neutrinos,
White House announcement of Medal winners,
Past Brookhaven National Lab Winners of the National Medal of Science,
High-resolution portrait of Raymond Davis Jr. (300 dpi jpeg, 1.7 MB)


The U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory conducts research in the physical, biomedical, and environmental sciences, as well as in energy technologies. Brookhaven also builds and operates major facilities available to university, industrial, and government scientists. The Laboratory is managed by Brookhaven Science Associates, a limited liability company founded by Stony Brook University and Battelle, a nonprofit applied science and technology organization.