Clifford Shull

Most Popular

Birth Sign

Clifford Glenwood Shull, a Nobel Laureate in physics, was a well-known American physicist. He went to school and college commuting from his home in Pittsburg as the youngest child of a middle-class businessman. Later, he relocated to New York to work at New York University as a researcher and teacher. He had to work on high-performance aircraft fuels and lubricants at the Beacon laboratory during the war years, despite his desire to join the Manhattan Project. After the war, he worked on neutron scattering with Ernest Woolen at Clinton Laboratory, which was eventually renamed the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Here, he invented a method for probing the molecular structure of materials by bouncing neutrons off of them, for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize nearly half a century later. His most fulfilling years, however, were spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he guided young research students, according to his own admission. He continued his neutron research here as well, leading to the first neutron diffraction studies of magnetic materials.

Childhood and Adolescence

Clifford Glenwood Shull was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 23, 1915. David and Daisy Shull, his parents, moved to the city from Perry County in Central Pennsylvania. David started a small business here, which eventually grew into a hardware store with home repair services.
Clifford had two older siblings: Evalyn May, a sister, and Perry Leo, a brother. Clifford later stated in his Nobel Lecture that he was the family’s baby and had a really happy childhood.

Clifford began his education at a local elementary school just a few blocks from his house. His junior high school was just a short distance away. When he enrolled at Schenley High School for the last three years of his school career, he had to go a considerable distance.

Under the influence of his physics master Paul Dysart, he began to acquire an interest in physics, despite his initial enthusiasm for aeronautical engineering. As a result, after graduating in 1933, he enrolled in Carnegie Institute of Technology (now known as Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburg, where he majored in physics.

The institute provided two major benefits. He could commute from home and save money because it was in Pittsburg. Because of his excellent academic records, he was also awarded a half-tuition scholarship.

The fact that the institution had good physics courses was also crucial. His interest in the issue grew exponentially under the influence of Harry Hower, the Head of the Physics Department.

Shull began working at New York University as a research and teaching assistant after graduating from college in 1937. His responsibilities included assisting with laboratory courses and grading problem assignments. However, because his father had already died, the lessons assisted him in surviving in New York.

Graduate students at New York University were invited to participate in ongoing departmental initiatives. Clifford joined Frank Myers and Robert Huntoon’s nuclear physics group.

Later, he supported Frank Myers and Richard Cox in the construction of a new Van de Graaff generator with a 400 keV output voltage. They utilized it to replicate the electron-double-scattering (EDS) experiment once it was completed. He had to collect and analyze data as part of the assignment. The experiment was part of his doctoral dissertation.

Career of Clifford Shull

Clifford Shull graduated from New York University with a PhD in June 1941, and joined Texas Company’s research laboratory in Beacon, New York, in July. The laboratory was working on high-performance aviation fuels and lubricants at the time.

Shull hoped to join the Manhattan Project, where scientists were working on developing the atomic weapon, when the United States entered the Second World War in December. His company refused to release him because the work he was doing was as vital, so he had to stay.

The work of Shull at the Texas Company was fascinating. He was able to broaden his understanding as a result of it. He learned about crystallography, the diffraction process, and other topics here. A trip to Clinton Laboratory (now Oak Ridge National Laboratory) in Tennessee, on the other hand, called his attention to recent advances in nuclear physics.

In 1946, Shull began working at Clinton Laboratory. Here, he collaborated with Ernest Woolen on figuring out how technology developed during the war could now be applied to scientific advancement. For nine years, they collaborated to see if neutrons produced by nuclear reactors might be utilized to study atomic structure.

Shull began teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1955. At the MITR-I research reactor, he was delighted to mentor graduate research students. Using neutron radiation from the reactor, his group conducted a number of tests.

He left the company in 1986. He made significant contributions to the fields of internal magnetization in crystals, polarized beam technology development, dynamical scattering in perfect crystals, and neutron fundamental properties.

Major Projects of Clifford Shull

Shull’s most important study was done at Clinton Laboratory under Ernest Woolen’s supervision. Here, he devised a method for quickly determining the relative locations of atoms in a substance. Later, the idea sparked interest in a wide range of objects, including superconductors and viruses.

He targeted a beam of single-wavelength neutrons towards the material under investigation at a precise velocity. When neutrons collided with the material’s atoms, they scattered in a precise pattern that was captured on photographic film. Later, he calculated the position of the atom by analyzing the pattern.

Achievements & Awards

Clifford Glenwood Shull and Bertram N. Brockhouse shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1994 for developing the neutron diffraction technique. Ernest Woolen’s work was highlighted in his Nobel acceptance speech. He believed he would have received the same award if Woolen hadn’t died so young.

Shull received the Oliver E. Buckley Prize from the American Physical Society in 1956 and the Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1993, in addition to the Nobel Prize.

In 1956, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 1975, he was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences.

Personal History and Legacy

Clifford Shull met Martha-Nuel Summer in New York while working on his PhD at the University of New York. In 1941, they married. John C. Shull, Robert D. Shull, and William F. Shull were the couple’s three sons.

Despite the fact that he retired in 1986, he stayed active for a long time and continued to visit his laboratory only to see the pupils at work. He died on March 31, 2001, at the age of 85, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital in Medford, Massachusetts.

The United Kingdom Antarctic Place-Names Committee has named ‘Shull Rocks’ in Antarctica after Clifford Shull. It’s a group of snow-covered rocks in Crystal Sound, Graham Land, about 16 kilometers northwest of Cape Rey.

The Neutron Scattering Society of America has established the ‘Clifford G. Shull Prize in Neutron Physics’ in his honor.

In his honor, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, formerly Clinton Laboratory, has established the ‘Clifford G. Shull Fellowship.’

Estimated Net Worth

Clifford is one of the wealthiest physicists and one of the most well-known. Clifford Shull’s net worth is estimated to be $1.5 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.


Clifford Glenwood Shull’s name is derived from the Glenwood neighborhood of Pittsburg, where he was born and raised.