Bertram Brockhouse, the Triple-axis Spectrometer, and Neutron Spectroscopy

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Bertram Brockhouse
Courtesy of McMaster University

Bertram Brockhouse ‘attended the University of British Columbia, from which he graduated in 1947 with first class honours in mathematics and physics. He entered the University of Toronto that same year … .  He obtained his Ph.D. in 1950, with a thesis entitled "The Effect of Stress and Temperature upon the Magnetic Properties of Ferromagnetic Materials".

In July 1950 Brockhouse joined the staff of the Atomic Energy Project of the National Research Council of Canada, later to become Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories … .

In 1953 Brockhouse took advantage of an unexpected shutdown of the NRX reactor [at Chalk River] to spend ten months as the first foreign guest scientist in the Reactor Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory [BNL]. During this time he worked … on a study of multiple scattering by flat specimens and magnetic scattering by zinc ferrite, on a powder magnetic diffraction study of copper oxide, on the development of improved monochromator crystals, on a study … of the scattering by liquid aluminum, including "an (inconclusive) attempt to measure the energy distribution of the scattered neutrons by absorption methods", and on a measurement of the incoherent cross sections of copper and gold.

On his return to Chalk River, Brockhouse … set up his crude triple-axis spectrometer, using a fixed angle monochromator facility with an aluminum crystal monochromator, a makeshift sample table, and the old single-axis instrument acting as the analyzing spectrometer. The scattering angle at the sample position was fixed for a give set of measurements but could be changed by turning the sample table and moving the analyzing spectrometer on a set of rails. The machine was used successfully, thanks in large part to its improved monochromator, for studies of the phonon frequency distribution of vanadium and of the inelastic scattering by liquid lead and light and heavy water … .’1

Brockhouse was again a foreign guest scientist at BNL in 1970.  He was awarded the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of neutron spectroscopy.

Bert Brockhouse, a McMaster University Professor from 1962 until his retirement in 1984, was a founding member of the Institute for Materials Research at McMaster, the forerunner to the BIMR. The Institute for Materials Research was renamed the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research in his honour in 1995.2

1 Edited excerpts from Bertram N. Brockhouse, McMaster University Physics and Astronomy
2 Edited excerpts from About Bertram N. Brockhouse, McMaster University


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