Canadian physicist who, with Clifford Shull, developed neutron diffraction techniques used for studying the structure and properties of matter. Brockhouse designed ingenious instruments with which he recorded the energy of neutrons scattered from various materials. He shared the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1994 for the development of the technique known as ‘neutron scattering’ which led to advances in semiconductor technology.
Life Brockhouse was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, but spent 1935–38 with his family in Chicago, USA. After World War II, he attended the University of British Columbia, studying physics and mathematics. He moved to the University of Toronto to complete his studies. In 1950 he became research officer at Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory in Ontario. In 1962 he became professor of physics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Nuclear research Before 1950, all nuclear reactors had been employed for a single purpose: to produce the first atomic bomb. A major new tool was placed in the hands of researchers when nuclear reactors were released from the war effort and could be used for tasks other than splitting atomic nuclei. Brockhouse and others took full advantage of the new tool. He started by studying how the energy of neutrons from the Chalk River nuclear reactor changed after passing through a material. The results of the first neutron scattering experiments were published in 1951.
In 1956 he built the first triple axis neutron spectrometer, an instrument which greatly improved the results of scattering experiments. Brockhouse was able to measure the frequency of atomic vibrations in solids and deduce the forces between the atoms. He later carried out similar experiments on the magnetic properties of atoms.
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