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Clifford G. Shull Wins Physics Nobel Prize

By Daniel C. Stevenson
News Editor

Professor Emeritus of Physics Clifford G. Shull will share this year's Nobel Prize in Physics for his development of neutron scattering techniques to analyze condensed matter.

The $930,000 award was announced by the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden on Wednesday. Shull, 79, will share the prize with Bertram N. Brockhouse of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Shull is the fourth member of the MIT physics faculty to win the prize.

"It is very exciting to be honored in this fashion," Shull said. "It's all the more exciting" that it happened over 40 years after the work was done, he said.

The neutron scattering techniques developed by Shull and his colleagues are "tools for learning things about materials," Shull said at a press conference on Wednesday. Using these techniques scientists can find "very basic information that determines the physical properties of a material."

"In simple terms, Clifford G. Shull has helped answer the question of where atoms are,' and Bertram N. Brockhouse the question of what atoms do'," according to the Nobel citation.

Shull received "a very, very well deserved prize," said Professor of Physics and Department Chair Ernst J. Moniz.

Shull received a phone call at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday from the secretary of the Swedish Academy of Sciences informing him of the award, he said. "I was surprised" to receive the call, he said.

Work done 45 years ago

Shull's most important work was done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee from 1946-51, said Robert J. Birgeneau, dean of the school of science. At Oak Ridge Shull and his colleague, the late Ernest Wollan, "systematically investigated the fundamental principles of elastic neutron scattering, thus providing the groundwork for this type of research," Birgeneau said.

"Neutron scattering has proven to be the most important single technique for elucidating the structure and dynamics of solids and fluids," Birgeneau said. "Professors Shull and Brockhouse stand out as having made singular contributions which provide the essential foundations of the fields."

Neutron scattering provided new information not available from the earlier technique of X-ray diffraction, Shull said. Neutron scattering is particularly applicable to hydrogen atoms, he said.

Shull's discoveries have been used to advance research in many fields, including polymers and superconductivity, Shull said.

International effort

Birgeneau and Institute Professor Jerome I. Friedman, a 1990 Nobel winner, nominated Shull for the prize with the international support of leaders in the physics community, Birgeneau said.

People had been trying to successfully nominate Shull for 10 years, Birgeneau said. This year the effort succeeded because Birgeneau and Friedman were able to convince the international leaders to recognize Shull and Brockhouse as "real pioneers," he said.

As a researcher, Shull was "a quiet sort of a guy," said Anthony Nunes PhD '69, a former graduate student of Shull's. He was also "interested and proud of precision and being precise in every detail," Nunes said.

Besides being "a great scientist and a great teacher," Shull is also a "fine, warm human being," Birgeneau said.

Shull joins Friedman, Professor of Physics Henry W. Kendall, and Professor of Physics Samuel C.C. Ting as MIT physics Nobel laureates. Including Shull, 15 present or former faculty members have received Nobel prizes. One staff member and 11 alumni have also won Nobels.

Shull received a bachelor's of science degree in 1937 from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University). He received a PhD in 1941 from New York University.

From 1941-46, Shull worked as a research physicist with the Texas Co. in Beacon, N.Y. Shull moved to Oak Ridge in 1946, and came to MIT as a full professor in 1955. He retired in 1986.

Shull and his wife of 56 years Martha-Nuel Summer live in Lexington. They have three sons: John C., Robert D., and William F. Shull.