Raymond N. Rogers, chemist who studied the Shroud of Turin, dies at age 77

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Thursday, May 5, 2005

Los Alamos, NM —Raymond N. Rogers, retired chemist who pioneered in the use of thermal analysis to characterize explosives, died on March 8, 2005 at the age of 77 after a long illness.

Rogers was born July 21, 1927 in Albuquerque NM, but his family soon moved to California to find work. When his father died in an industrial accident on young Rogers' thirteenth birthday, he and his mother were left in Bakersfield with no means of support in the depression years. Rogers took on a number of odd jobs to bring in money: playing the horn in a dance band, ushering at the local theater, and working in a print shop.

In 1945 he enlisted in the U.S Navy and served as a radar technician during World War II. Thanks to the GI bill, Rogers was able to complete his education at the University of Arizona, majoring in chemistry. Upon graduation in 1948 his first job was with the Arizona Agricultural Experimental Station. There he built a thermal analysis instrument to study soils, and this experience brought him to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in late 1951.

At LANL Rogers became a group leader of an explosives research-and-development group and was elected Laboratory Fellow in 1981. He later worked for the International Technology division, retiring in 1988. He served on the Department of the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board from 1987 until 1992 with the equivalent rank of Lt. General, receiving their Distinguished Service Award. He received other awards and recognitions from LANL and professional organizations.

Although much of Rogers' research at LANL had military applications including the characterization of exotic explosives for munitions, he was always concerned with explosives safety and chemical hazards. One of his published research results has been incorporated into a standard method for the screening of reactive materials (ASTM method E698). Today this method is used worldwide to obtain reaction rate constants for energetic materials, a necessary first step in avoiding thermal explosions.

Until he retired Rogers was an editor for the two scientific journals, Thermochimica Acta and the Journal of Energetic Materials, and throughout his career he participated in conferences and symposia related to his chosen field. His ground-breaking work in thermal analysis—particularly differential scanning calorimetry—demonstrated the effectiveness of these techniques for characterizing energetic materials with only a few milligrams of sample. A relevant list of Rogers' scientific publications can be found on the Web (Explosives Science).

Rogers was also an accomplished amateur archaeologist who did research on the chemistry of deposits and artifacts of interest in archaeology and geochronology. In 1978 he was invited to become Director of Chemical Research for the Shroud of Turin Research Project (STURP), whose primary goal was to determine the scientific properties of the image on the Shroud of Turin, and what might have caused it. The shroud was a linen fabric purported to be the burial cloth of Jesus of Nazareth.

For many people the shroud study proved disappointing when the initial carbon dating results placed the production of the fabric at between 1260 and 1390 AD, indicating that the shroud was a fake. However, about a year before his death Rogers found evidence that challenged the carbon-14 dating results. Although weakened by illness, he performed forensic work (Thermochimica Acta 425 (2005), 189-194 ) revealing that the material used in the carbon dating was not sampled from the original fabric, but from a part of the shroud that had been rewoven in medieval times. Rogers' work also indicated that the original shroud was much older than the age determined through carbon-14 analysis; but the question remains open as to whether it was in fact the burial cloth of the historic Jesus.

After retiring from LANL Rogers continued to work on the Shroud project, and with his wife Joan he also found time to enjoy hiking in the great outdoors as well as to train dogs for search and rescue operations. He is survived by his wife Joan; daughter Amy Canzona and her husband Tony; step-daughters Dawn Janney and Lauren McGavran and her husband Harry; grandson Kenneth; great-grandson Mark; cousin Bob and other family members; many very special friends; and coonhound Clancy.