Bertram Brockhouse, 1918–2003

This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.

National Research Council, ca. 1950. Chalk River, Ontario. Source: Courtesy NRC Archives

Nobel Prize Winning Research

In 1994, Canadian Bertram Brockhouse and American Clifford Shull shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for their separate development of neutron-scattering techniques, which enabled the study of matter at the atomic level.

Critical Tool in Physics and Chemistry

Brockhouse developed a method known as inelastic neutron scattering that, similar to Shull’s, relied on analyzing how neutrons scattered after they were beamed through a material. These techniques revealed key properties about atomic structure and behaviour, and remain critical tools in solid-state physics and organic chemistry today. Biologists use neutron scattering, for example, to study the structure of viruses and DNA molecules.

Brockhouse, who also designed the neutron spectrometer, developed neutron scattering without computers, relying on his considerable mathematical skills to obtain results. Brockhouse carried out most of his award-winning research between 1950 and 1962 at Atomic Energy of Canada’s nuclear laboratory in Chalk River, Ontario.

Bertram Brockhouse, a Companion of the Order of Canada, died in 2003.

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