October 14, 1914, in Washington D.C. (United States) – May 31, 2006, in Blue Point (United States)
In 1938, he received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Maryland and a doctorate in physical chemistry from Yale University.
In 1946, after leaving the army, he worked at Monsanto's Mound Laboratory in Ohio, doing applied radiochemistry work for the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
In 1948, he joined the Brookhaven National Laboratory where he devoted himself to finding peaceful uses for nuclear energy. It is at this point that he decides to dedicate his professional career to neutrinos, investigating their detection by beta decay, the process by which a neutrino carries enough energy into a nucleus to convert certain stable isotopes into radioactive ones. Since the rate of this process is very low, the number of radioactive atoms created in neutrino experiments is very small, Davis began to investigate the rates of processes other than beta decay that would mimic the neutrino signal.
He experimented with argon-37 and carbochrome tetrachloride detectors. Using the Brookhaven reactor and later one of the Savannah River reactors, he obtained the first experimental evidence that neutrinos cause the chlorine reaction and the antineutrinos produced in the reactors were different. Detecting neutrinos proved considerably more difficult than not detecting antineutrinos. He is known for directing the experiment to detect neutrinos emitted by the Sun, called the Homestake project, between 1960 and 1980 and, for this reason, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 with the Japanese physicist Masatoshi Koshiba and with the Italian Riccard Giacconi, for his pioneering contributions to astrophysics. He was 88 years old when he was awarded the prize.
With an impressive professional career in which he has written many publications and won awards and medals for his research, such as:
1978 – Cyrus Comstock Award from the United States National Academy of Sciences.
1988 – Bonner Prize of the American Physical Society.
1992 – Panofsky Prize of the American Physical Society.
1994 – Beatrice Tinsley Award from the American Astronomical Society.
1996 – George Ellery Hale Award from the American Astronomical Society.
2000 – Wolf Prize in Physics.
2001 – United States National Medal of Science.
2002 – Nobel Prize in Physics