Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Bertram Brockhouse

Bertram Brockhouse 
Bertram Brockhouse was “awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for pioneering contributions to the development of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter and particularly for the development of neutron spectroscopy.” 

The work for which he was recognized was carried out in the 1950s and 1960s and it helped answer “the question of what atoms do!” 

Bertram Brockhouse was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, in 1918 and briefly attended a one room prairie schoolhouse before the family moved to Vancouver, but the family was uprooted again in 1935 in the middle of the Great Depression. 

They went to Chicago for three years to try to improve their precarious financial situation. While in Chicago, Bertram began to design and repair radios, which probably sparked his later interest in physics and electronic equipment. 

The family returned to Vancouver in 1938 and when war broke out, Brockhouse enlisted in the Royal Canadian navy. 

In1944, he spent 6 months at the Nova Scotia technical College in an electrical engineering course and then he was assigned to the National Research Council in Ottawa. 

Canada had made a commitment on nuclear energy in the late 1940s and 1950s and the Atomic Energy Project of the National Research Council was strongly supported by the Government both politically and financially. 

He solved one problem after another and eventually came up with his own design for a triple-axis spectrometer. 

The instrument enabled him to bombard solid materials with slow moving neutrons produced in the reactor. 

That, in turn, allowed him to calculate the strength of the forces that bond atoms together. His neutrons spectrometer was so successful that it is now used worldwide. 

A special feature of hi spectrometer was its ability to vary three angles: the direction of the neutron beam, the position o the specimen and the angle of the detector. With access to one of the world’s best nuclear reactor facilities and his new spectrometer, Brockhouse was able to explore the tiny inner-world of the atom for the next twelve years. 

It was during this period that he and his neutron spectrometer accomplished the work that led to his Nobel Prize. 

He was appointed professor of physics at McMaster University in Hamilton which had the only university-sited nuclear reactor in Canada at the time. 

When Brockhouse was named as the recipient of the 1994 Nobel prize in Physics, he had already been retired since 1984. 
Bertram Brockhouse

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