April 5, 1916–February 14, 2002
BY HENRY A. LESTER AND AHMED ZEWAIL
NORMAN DAVIDSON WAS BORN in Chicago. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Chicago in 1937 and completed another bachelor of science degree at the University of Oxford in 1939 as a Rhodes scholar. In 1941 he completed his Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Chicago.
Before and during World War II, he worked on the problem of purifying plutonium for the Manhattan Project at the University of Southern California, at Columbia University, and finally at the University of Chicago. He also had a brief stint as a researcher at the Radio Corporation of America.
Norman Davidson’s career as an independent scientist was entirely at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and covered the period from 1946, when he was appointed instructor in chemistry, to his death in 2002. Norman made important contributions sequentially in three quite different fields. From 1946 until about 1960 he worked in physical and inorganic chemistry. From about 1960 till about 1980 he was a founder of nucleic acid molecular biology; and from then until 2002 he made numerous contributions to molecular aspects of neuroscience.