Reminiscences About Dr. Davis and His Work

Gerhart Friedlander
Retiree, Brookhaven National Laboratory
(Chemistry Department Chair, 1968-77)

Much credit for getting the Homestake experiment launched belongs to Richard Dodson, chair of the Chemistry Department when Ray proposed the experiment. Dodson fought for the funding and gave the project his whole-hearted support. Also crucial was the funding provided by Alexander Van Dyken of the AEC [Atomic Energy Commission], who courageously supported the project at a time when it was not generally thought to promise success.

Perlman, Friedlander and DavisDodson sent Morris Perlman and me -- both chemists -- out to the mine in 1967 to check everything out. That’s because when Ray started to get his first results, they indicated a problem - too few neutrinos. Dodson thought we’d better have some independent judgment. We found that everything was fine. [Perlman, Friedlander and Davis are shown in the picture at right.]

People through the years suggested many alternate explanations for Ray’s data, but he painstakingly disproved them one by one until he was, after many years, able to convince most of the doubters that he was correct. His results absolutely stood up for the past 30 years.

It was all an heroic chemistry experiment. Fishing out a few atoms of argon from a hundred thousand gallons of perchloroethylene is the ultimate radiochemical experiment. It’s a kind of job only chemists can do. And not many chemists would have had Ray’s persistence to do it.

N. Blair Munhofen
Retiree, Brookhaven National Laboratory
(Chemistry Department Administrator, 1953-90)

I was more in the business of getting things done, installed, etc. It took some time to construct the experiment. You had all the parts to order and put together. It was a big operation.

Munhofen during eductor testOne of the problems that had to be solved was how do you thoroughly mix the helium with the perchloroethylene. We had help from people on site in nuclear engineering, who came up with the use of educters. Ray and I had never heard of such a thing. We wanted to test this out, so we had built at Brookhaven a ten-foot diameter Plexiglas ring, which we placed in the Lab swimming pool. Ray, John Galvin and I had to get certified to use scuba gear to test the eductors under water. [Munhofen is shown during these tests at right.]

In those days, everything was fun at the Laboratory. People did their work, they enjoyed it, they loved it.

The Goldhabers were always interested in the experiment. Whenever Maurice [Brookhaven Director, 1961-73] saw me on the street, he would always ask about the mine. Gertrude said that it would be a lot more exciting if you didn’t have what they predicted. And that was the gist of it.

J. Keith Rowley
Retiree, Brookhaven National Laboratory
(Chemist in the Chemistry Department, 1953-99)

I made 25 trips to Homestake, staying one or two weeks at a time. The local folks, especially the miners, all knew us because of the publicity surrounding the experiment. Their standard greeting was, “Catch any today?”

It was about 90 degrees [Fahrenheit] underground. Remember that the center of the earth is molten, so it’s hotter as you go deeper. Usually, we went down before 7 in the morning and left by 9:30 at night. We had to get out before the last restaurant closed. All meals were social occasions, and there was a lot of discussion about what had been done, what we were going to do, and gossip in the solar neutrino field.

Davis swims in flooded mineThe space outside the detector was filled with water to slow down any neutrons coming from the rock walls of the chamber. These neutrons could lead to a series of reactions that could produce argon, which would increase the signal. So it would be a higher signal, but a false signal. The water was certainly warm enough to swim in, but I never did. [But Davis did! Pictured, right.]

Ray was very generous, always offering his help. People came to him asking for space in the mine to do their experiments. That’s how Ken Lande from Penn came to set up his counters in the mine, although some of the other experiments were not even related to neutrinos. Ray always bent over backwards to help people.

Early on, we brought back samples to Brookhaven for counting. We hand carried them in glass containers through airport security. You probably couldn’t do that today.

Last updated on November 29, 2004 by G. Schroeder.