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. He moved to the University of Cambridge to work with Lawrence Bragg, and obtained 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 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. 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.
- 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.
- email@example.com. "Heriot-Watt University Edinburgh: Honorary Graduates". www1.hw.ac.uk. Retrieved 5 April 2016.
- "Library and Archive Catalogue". Royal Society. Retrieved 23 December 2010.
- "William Cochran Obituary 2003".