William Cochran (physicist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

William (Bill) Cochran FRS FRSE (30 July 1922 – 28 August 2003)[1] was a prominent Scottish physicist.


Bill Cochran was born in Scotland and educated at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh. He studied physics at the University of Edinburgh. He completed his PhD under Arnold Beevers in the Chemistry Department in X-ray crystallography of sucrose using isomorphous replacement. Moving to Cambridge University to work with Lawrence Bragg, obtaining tenure in 1951. He realised that isomorphous replacement was the key to solving protein structures. With Francis Crick, he invented methods for deducing helical patterns from crystallographic data, which ultimately led to the solution of the structure of DNA.

Cochran went on to study neutron diffraction with Bertram Brockhouse and used lattice dynamics[clarification needed] and to explain the phenomenon of ferroelectricity in terms of lattice instabilities. This was tested by his students Stuart Pawley, Roger Cowley and Richard Nelmes. This idea was also advanced around the same time by Philip Anderson, but Cochran, with his unfailing modesty, credits Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and Negundagi with the original idea. Cochran's basic idea is that on cooling from a high temperature state, symmetry breaking can occur.

Cochran returned to Edinburgh in 1964 as Chair of Natural Philosophy. In this same year, Peter Higgs introduced the idea of the Higgs boson and Higgs field. Higgs basic idea is that on cooling from a high temperature state, symmetry breaking can occur, and it has been claimed that the original insight leading to the Higgs boson was due to Philip Anderson.

He became Head of Department in 1975 and was instrumental in the merger of the Natural Philosophy and Mathematical Physics departments. He was vice-principal from 1984 to 1987.

Cochran also received an Honorary Doctorate from Heriot-Watt University in 1992 [2]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in March 1962 and won their Hughes Medal in 1978.[3] He won the Howard N. Potts Medal of the Franklin Institute in 1984.

Cochran succumbed to motor neurone disease in 2003 [4]


  1. ^ Woolfson, Michael Mark (2005). "William Cochran. 30 July 1922 – 28 August 2003: Elected FRS 1962". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 51: 67. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2005.0005.
  2. ^ webperson@hw.ac.uk. "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". www1.hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-05.
  3. ^ "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  4. ^ "William Cochran Obituary 2003".

External links[edit]