Clyde Lorrain Cowan, Jr. – Captain, United States Army Air Forces

I am Lieutenant Commander George L. Cowan, United States Navy, currently stationed in Jacksonville, Florida.

My  father is buried at Arlington Cemetery, and I respectfully request his biography be placed upon your website.

His name was Clyde Lorrain Cowan, Jr.  He was a Captain in the United States Army Air Forces in World War II.

His gravesite is unremarkable, there is nothing noting his accomplishments on his tombstone.  This is in keeping with his humility.  However, I would  like to make the authorities at Arlington aware that he is better known as  Dr. Clyde L. Cowan, Jr., PhD., the co-discoverer of the neutrino sub-atomic particle in 1956.  He died suddenly in 1974.

Subsequently, nearly 40 years after his monumental discovery, his work was honored with the distinction of  the 1995 Nobel Prize in Physics.  The Department of Energy honored my father in  1996 in Los Alamos, New Mexico, for his contributions to physics.  The Nobel Prize is not given posthumously, but his partner, Dr. Fred Reines, did receive the  award in both of their names.  Dr. Reines recently passed away, but was the recipient of much praise for the work he did with my father.

Sir, I understand how busy your work is, but I respectfully request your  attention in this matter.  I believe that this may provide some small token of honor that my family and associates that knew Dr. Cowan would appreciate from the fine services you and your staff at Arlington National Cemetery  provide on a daily basis.

Very respectfully,
George L. Cowan

Clyde Lorrain Cowan Jr (December 6, 1919–May 24, 1974) was the co-discoverer of the neutrino, along with Frederick Reines. The discovery was made in 1956, detected in the neutrino experiment. Frederick Reines received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1995 in both their names.

Born the oldest of four children in Detroit, Michigan, his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, where he began his education attending public schools. He graduated in 1940 from the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy in Rolla, Missouri, with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering.

Cowan was a captain in the United States Army Air Forces, where he earned a bronze star in World War II. From 1936-1940 he was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. Cowan joined the U.S. Army Chemical Warfare Service with the rank of Second Lieutenant when America joined World War II in 1941. In August 1942, he was transferred to Eisenhower’s Eighth Air Force stationed in London, England. In 1943 he designed and built an experimental cleaning unit to be used in case of gas attack. In the following year, he joined the staff of the British Branch of the Radiation Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was located in Great Malvern, England. In 1945 he was a liaison officer with the Royal Air Force, working to expedite transmittal of technical information and equipment. He returned to the United States in 1945, and worked at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. He left active duty in 1946.

Benefitting from the G.I. Bill, he attended Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, receiving a Masters Degree and his Ph.D. in 1949. He then joined the staff of the Los Alamos (N.Mex) Scientific Laboratory, where he met Frederick Reines.

In 1951 Reines and Cowan began their search for the neutrino. Their work was completed at the Savannah River Plant in Augusta, Georgia, in 1956.

Cowan began his teaching career in 1957, as a Professor of Physics at George Washington University in Washington, DC. The following year, he left GWU and joined the faculty of The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, a post he held until the close of his life. He also acted at various times as a consultant to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), US Naval Ordnance Laboratory, the United States Naval Academy, the U.S. Army, United Mineworkers of America, Electric Boat Co., and the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

He was married in Woodford, England, January 29, 1943 to Betty Eleanor, daughter of George Henry and Mabel Jane (Mather) Dunham of Wanstead, England, and has three surviving children: Elizabeth Esthermay, who married John A. Riordon; Marian Jane, who married Charles M. Kriston; and George Langstroth, who married Justine Allen, then Kim Borkowitz. Seven other children died in infancy, and he had two adopted sons: David Lorrain (died in childhood) and Michael Lorraine. Clyde L. Cowan died in Bethesda, Maryland, May 24, 1974, and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

His family has blossomed to include 11 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.

His grandson James Riordon, a former physicist and engineer who heads the American Physical Society media relations office, initially conceived of the distributed computing project Einstein@home, which searches gravitational wave data for signals from massive rotating objects such a pulsars.

Cowan was a direct descendant of L. L. Langstroth, the “Father of Modern Beekeeping”, and a distant relative of Katherine Drexel, a Catholic saint.

Dear Sir/Maam:

I would like to express my gratitude that you have maintained the biography of Dr. Clyde L. Cowan Jr on your website.

I teach High Energy Physics and Astrophysics at the University of Hertfordshire in England. My second year class expressed dismay just last week that some of the world’s leading scientists who would otherwise have been awarded the Nobel Prize die before the honour can be bestowed upon them. I was aware of the outstanding work of Reines and Cowan in searching for and discovering the neutrino, and surmised from the fact that only Reines actually received the Nobel prize (in 1995) that Cowan had passed away already. An internet search took me to your website, which provided a brief but valuable personal account of his passing and his resting place.

Dr Cowan’s work proved the existence of one of the most remarkable fundamental particles known to science. To quote from the presentation speech of the Nobel committee, “Together with the late C.L. Cowan, Frederick Reines detected the neutrino, the sister lepton of the electron in the first quark-lepton family, even before the family concept had emerged. It was a long-awaited discovery. For nearly 25 years, physicists had been waiting for someone to accomplish this feat.”

Attempts to detect neutrinos flowing from the Sun earned another Nobel prize in 2002, this time for Davis and Koshiba.

In my view, one of the most remarkable astronomical observations ever was the detection of 20 neutrinos in 1987 from a star that exploded in a different galaxy to ours. Had neutrinos not been detected by Cowan back in 1953, who would have been looking in 1987?

Arlington has a major role to play in celebrating the lives of US servicemen and women.  I am very pleased that Dr Cowan’s most  enduring contribution, of truly international significance, is recognised there as well.

Dr Cowan’s biography was provided by his son, Lieutenant Commander George L. Cowan, United States Navy who in 1999 was serving with the US Navy in Jacksonville. If you have any means of letting him know that people are still reading the brief biography he supplied, I suspect he would be pleased to hear it.

Best wishes
Sean Ryan

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