Bachelor of Science, Edinburgh (Scotland) U., 1943; Doctor of Philosophy, Edinburgh (Scotland) U., 1946; Master of Arts, Cambridge (England) University, 1948; Doctor of Science (honorary), Heriot-Watt (Scotland) U., 1992.
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 deoxyribonucleic acid. Cochran went on to study neutron diffraction with Bertram Brockhouse and used lattice dynamics 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 succumbed to motor neurone disease in 2003.
Fellow Royal Society London, Royal Society Edinburgh (vice president 1982-1985).
Married Ingegerd E.B. Wall, April 1953. Children: Margaret, Robert, Jennifer.