Bertram Neville Brockhouse Biography (1918-)


Neville Brockhouse was born in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, on July 15, 1918,to homestead farmers. Brockhouse had one sister, Alice Evelyn, and two brothers, one of whom died in infancy, and another who later became a railroad civil engineer. In 1926 the Brockhouse family moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where Bertram and his siblings grew up.

Financial difficulties during the Great Depression caused Brockhouse's familyto move to Chicago, Illinois, in 1935 in search of better opportunities. Brockhouse began attending Central YMCA College (later renamed Roosevelt University), taking technical courses. He learned to repair and design radios and worked for a short time in the laboratory of a small electronics firm. In 1938the family decided to return to Vancouver, where Brockhouse continued to repair radios for a living.

Anti-totalitarian and anti-Communist feelings inspired Brockhouse to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1939. He was in the navy for six years, during which he spent most of his time repairing equipment at a shore base. In 1944 the navy enrolled him in electrical engineering courses at Nova Scotia Technical College and assigned him to the test facilities at the National Research Council in Ottawa. It was during this time that Brockhouse met his future wife, Doris Miller. They would lose contact for a while after the war was over and Brockhouse was released from the navy in 1945.

In September 1945 Brockhouse began studying at the University of British Columbia. He felt that engineering or physics were obvious choices for study considering his background, but decided the combination of physics and mathematics was the best choice. In the summer of 1946 Brockhouse took a motorcycle trip to Ottawa. He graduated with a B.S. from the University of British Columbiain April of 1947 and took a summer job at the National Research Council Laboratory in Ottawa.

Brockhouse entered the University of Toronto at the age of 29 and began studying the effects of stress and temperature on ferromagnetism. He ran into somedifficulties, though, when three faculty members left to take other positions, and he was left unsupervised.

Brockhouse earned his Ph.D. in 1950 and then joined the Atomic Energy Projectof the National Research Council of Canada (later renamed the Atomic Energyof Canada Limited), in Chalk River, Ontario. It was during this period that Brockhouse conducted his ground-breaking research in neutron physics. He had been reading a paper about neutrons, whose existence had only been verified 20years before. He was supposed to be working on another project, but could not stop thinking about testing the theories he had read about in the laboratory. He began working on an apparatus that would focus a neutron beam on solidslike minerals, metals, and gems and would therefore reveal their structure.Brockhouse would go on to improve this neutron beam, and his apparatus, the triple-axis neutron spectrometer, is now used all over the world to examine the structure of crystals.

In 1962, he accepted a position as professor of physics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, which had a "swimming pool" reactor that would allowhim to continue his research. He continued to conduct preliminary research for experiments that would be conducted at the atomic research lab in Chalk River, but now his work included teaching and training students to work with thereactor. In 1962 he won the Buckley Prize of the American Physical Society and in 1963 the British Institute of Physics and Physical Society's prize. In1971 he supervised a group of talented students in the building of the university's own triple-axis spectrometer.

Brockhouse retired from McMaster University as a professor emeritus in 1984.In retirement he pursued interests in the philosophy of physics. Exactly tenyears after his retirement, Brockhouse awoke on a Wednesday morning to find amessage on his answering machine. The message said that B.N. Brockhouse andC.G. Shull had been chosen for the 1994 Nobel Prize for physics. Brockhouse was stunned and called his wife in to listen to the message. Because of the award, he was promptly called out of retirement for a year of lectures, awards,and travel, all for work he had completed over 40 years ago.

To honor the former professor, McMaster dedicated its materials research school to Brockhouse in 1995. The Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research ishome to the Photonics Research Laboratory, high-temperature crystal growth laboratories, metallography facilities, a series of electron microscopes, and ahelium liquifier.

Recent Updates

October 13, 2003: Brockhouse died on October 13, 2003, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. He was 85. Source: New York Times, October 16, 2003, p. A27.

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