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During World War II he worked on the Manhattan Project as part of the Special Engineer Detachment. At Los Alamos, he met Professor Robert Williams (scientist), who later recruited him to teach at the University of Washington.
As a graduate student at Cornell after World War II, Davisson built a cosmic ray machine that would do everything but write a grad student's thesis. He acquired a huge magnet from Navy surplus, built a cloud chamber and a set of Geiger counters and designed a universal-focus camera to record cosmic ray events. Then he designed and built an early electronic computer to record and sort the events according to energy, mass, charge, direction and frequency. Davisson received great praise from the Cornell faculty, after he mounted his machine in a trailer that could be towed up in the mountains or lowered down into abandoned mines. With such success, Davisson went on to the University of Washington without a PhD.
Davisson's passion as a graduate student was to find unusual ways to solve assigned problems. He resorted to the method taught in class only as a last resort.
Davisson was a member of the University of Washington's team which designed a system for detecting subatomic particles known as muons. After the U.S. government pulled the funding on the Superconducting Super Collider project, the team was recruited by CERN to help build part of the muon detector of the ATLAS experiment in the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, in which Davisson took part in, e.g., creating tools to test the detector tubes and as a liaison between the University of Washington's team and the rest of the collaborating group.
Davisson retired for six weeks out of every year of his life to the Davisson family cottage in the tiny town of Brooklin, Maine, where he enjoyed a quiet retreat messing about in boats and living by the water. In the sixties, Davisson was a member of a "poor man's" artistic and Bohemian waterfront community in Seattle, Washington, where he and his wife enjoyed raising their infant son on a houseboat, a time Davisson described as one of the happiest in his life. Among his proudest achievements was his criminal record, a single charge of illegal moorage of his sailboat the No Hurry on the water's edge of the University of Washington campus.
A close friend of Washington State's first female governor, the late Dixie Lee Ray, a Democrat, he was a frequent guest at her Fox Island home. He was one of the founders of Seattle's Pacific Science Center, which continues, decades later, to bring the knowledge and fun of science to children and young people.
Among his many outside interests, Davisson was a photographer, most famous for his series of black-and-white studies of the eyes of insects, which helped him in his work with optics. He enjoyed children's literature and fine, simple food. He read widely in the sciences and politics, often devouring several journals, magazines and newspapers in an evening while simultaneously keeping a constant running log of the physics equations in his head on notebook after notebook of graph paper. Responsible for many physics discoveries, he nevertheless did not publish, modestly claiming that someone else would "figure it out eventually".
He was a brilliant and funny raconteur and philosopher, regularly gathering a small entourage to his favorite public house, The Big Time Brewery on University Way N.E., also in Seattle, where he held the dual honor of being the very first and best customer and the first taster of new products. A plaque is now placed there in his honor.
Davisson retired in 2000, at the age of 77.
Davisson was married for forty years to Elizabeth "Betty" Davisson, a retired Psychiatric Social Worker from whom he separated after fourteen years but with whom he maintained close, personal contact until his death.
They have one son, Gordon Owen Davisson, a successful software engineer and businessman.
He was succeeded in death as well by his Sister, Elizabeth Dixon Davisson.
- "There are no physicists in the hottest parts of Hell, because the existence of a 'hottest part' implies a temperature difference, and any marginally competent physicist would immediately use this to run a heat engine and make some other part of Hell comfortably cool. This is obviously impossible."[attribution needed]
- "A physicist should have both a Wife and a Mistress and furthermore each should be aware of the other. That way,the Wife will think he is with his Mistress and the Mistress will think he is with his Wife and he can go to the lab and get some work done."[attribution needed]
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