Bertram Brockhouse

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Lethbridge, Alberta
Birth Sign
Lethbridge, Alberta

Bertram Brockhouse was a Canadian scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994 for his groundbreaking work on neutron scattering. Brockhouse shared the award with Clifford G Shull, who conducted similar studies but not in collaboration with Brockhouse. Brockhouse first became interested in physics when he was in high school. As he received greater education at the University of British Columbia and later at the University of Toronto, his interest in the subject grew even stronger. Brockhouse’s most groundbreaking work was in the field of neutron scattering. In contrast to the general technique of aiming a beam of neutrons at a target material and measuring the relative energies of the scattered neutrons to obtain additional data, Brockhouse’s technique (called inelastic neutron scattering) measured the relative energies of the scattered neutrons to obtain additional data. He used it in his groundbreaking research on phonons. He was also one of the first to measure the phonon dispersion curve of a solid, having invented the neutron spectrometer.

Childhood and Adolescence

Bertram Neville Brockhouse, son of Israel Bertram Brockhouse and Mable Emily Brockhouse, was born on July 15, 1918, in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He had a sister named Alice Evelyn and a brother named Gordon Edgar, who worked as a railroad civil engineer.
When Bertram Brockhouse was two years old, his family moved to the United States. However, in the winter of 1926-1927, the family relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Brockhouse received his early education in a number of schools, beginning with Central and then Lord Roberts primary schools, before going on to King George High School and lastly St John’s United Church’s Sunday School.
During the Great Depression, the Brockhouse family’s already precarious financial situation deteriorated even further.

In search of better possibilities, they relocated to Chicago, where Brockhouse enrolled in an evening course at the Central YMCA College.

Wilbert B Smith, his cousin, sparked his interest in radios. Further, he acquired the technical parts of radio technology at the YMCA, including designing, building, and repairing them. Meanwhile, he worked as a lab assistant at Aubert Controls Corporation, a tiny electronic company, to supplement his income. In addition, he launched a modest company fixing radio sets.

The Brockhouse family moved back to Vancouver in 1938. He continued to repair radio equipment before enlisting in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1939, just as World War II broke out.
He enrolled in a six-month Electrical Engineering study at Nova Scotia Technical College in 1944. Following that, he was hired at the National Research Council in Ottawa as an Electrical Sub-Lieutenant.

Brockhouse was discharged from the army in September 1945. He then went on to study physics and mathematics at the University of British Columbia. He began working as a summer intern at the National Research Council laboratory in Ottawa in 1946.

Following his time at the NRC lab, he went to the University of Toronto’s Low-Temperature Laboratory. He also applied for a Ph.D. program at the university, where he was advised by Professors Hugh Grayson Smith and James Reekie. He studied the effects of temperature and stress on ferromagnetism. Meanwhile, in 1948, he earned his Master’s degree. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Toronto two years later.

Brockhouse received an invitation to work with Don Hurst’s neutron physics department at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory, a facility run by Atomic Energy of Canada, in 1950. Brockhouse’s relationship with the laboratory lasted 12 years, despite the fact that he had only planned to stay for a few months. It was also there that he did his award-winning research.

Brockhouse’s first experiment at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory investigated neutron scattering by highly absorbing materials. It was the first quantitative slow neutron spectroscopy experiment.
Brockhouse was invited to the Brookhaven National Laboratory for a year, where he worked on a variety of experiments but did not do any spectroscopic work. He also met a number of other scientists who assisted him in learning about novel inelastic scattering methods and generalized correlations.

Brockhouse continued his experimental tasks when he returned to NRX in February 1954. At the American Physical Society meeting in New York the following year, he delivered a presentation with significant results demonstrating the operation of the triple-axis spectrometer.

Brockhouse built the first real Triple-Axis crystal spectrometer in 1956, but it was only for use with steady incoming energy. The operation’s flexibility and the precision of the result were substantially enhanced.
He developed the Constant Q Method in 1958. In the same year, a new apparatus was installed at the new high-flux reactor NRU, allowing operation with varying incoming energy. By 1959, the triple-axis spectrometer had reached its full potential. He was accompanied by eminent physicists from all across the world.

Alex Stewart finished the Filter-Chopper equipment in 1956, which was utilized in studies with aluminum and vanadium. In Stewart’s absence, Brockhouse changed the instrument’s name to Rotating Crystal Spectrometer. Its primary purpose was to investigate liquids and polycrystals.

Brockhouse accomplished three more technological steps in addition to finishing the Triple Axis spectrometer and establishing the Constant Q Method. He cooled massive single-crystal filters, which resulted in a significant increase in the ratio of slow neutrons to fast neutrons in the primary beam and therefore in the signal-to-background ratio.

Brockhouse invented the beryllium Detector,’ allowing the Triple-Axis spectrometer to receive Beryllium polycrystalline filters in the dispersed beam. The technology allowed entering neutrons with varying energies to obtain energy distributions in a novel, and sometimes advantageous, way. The procedure was the inverse of the Filter-Chopper procedure. He also came up with novel applications for the new material, pyrolitic graphite.

Brockhouse made his first journey to England and Europe in 1958. He presented his paper on his research and findings at various conferences, colloquia, meetings, and seminars while there. His trip was generally motivating, and it served as a valuable learning opportunity.

Brockhouse accepted the position of Professor of Physics at McMaster University in 1962, fulfilling a long-held desire of pursuing a university career. He was able to easily transfer from academics to research and back to academics at the institution. It also enabled him to begin a research program based on his neutron scattering discoveries. He worked there until 1984 when he retired.

Brockhouse’s interests shifted in the 1970s to physics philosophy and energy supply, as well as economics and ethics. In 1979, he retired from neutron scattering totally.

His Major Projects

Brockhouse’s most dramatic success occurred while he was conducting research at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory of the Canadian Atomic Energy Commission. He made a significant contribution to the development of neutron scattering techniques as well as neutron spectroscopy.

In a neutron-scattering technique, a beam of neutrons is directed towards a target material, and the neutrons’ scattering provides information on the substance’s atomic structure. Brockhouse devised a new method for obtaining extra data by measuring the relative energy of scattered neutrons.

Inelastic neutron scattering was the name given to this technique. He applied it to his groundbreaking research on phonons. He was also one of the first to measure the phonon dispersion curve of a solid, having invented the neutron spectrometer.

Achievements & Awards

Brockhouse was awarded the Oliver E Buckley Condensed Matter Prize in 1962. He was awarded the Duddell Medal and Prize the following year.
Brockhouse was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1965. (FRS).
Brockhouse was awarded the Henry Marshall Tory Medal in 1973.

Brockhouse was awarded an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1982, and in 1995, he was elevated to Companion.
Brockhouse was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994 for creating neutron scattering techniques for the study of condensed matter. He split the prize with American physicist Clifford Shull, who was working on comparable projects at the same time.

Personal History and Legacy

Doris Miller was Brockhouse’s first encounter with her at the National Research Council in Ottawa. In May 1947, the two finally married. Dorie, as she was affectionately known, gave birth to six children for him. Throughout Brockhouse’s research years, she was a strong supporter and encourager.

Brockhouse began to suffer from major medical problems in the 1960s. Later in life, his medical issues caused him discomfort.
On October 13, 2003, Brockhouse passed away in Hamilton, Ontario. He was 85 years old at the time.

The Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) and the Division of Condensed Matter and Materials Physics (DCMMP) collaborated to create a medal in Brockhouse’s honor in 1999.

The Brockhouse Medal is given to individuals who have made significant experimental or theoretical contributions to condensed matter and materials physics. It is given out once a year to a scientist who does research with a Canadian institution.

In 2005, as part of McMaster University’s 75th-anniversary celebrations, a roadway on campus (University Avenue) in Hamilton, Ontario, was renamed Brockhouse Way to recognize his contributions to physics. Furthermore, the town of Deep River, Ontario also named a street in his honor.

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