Clifford Glenwood Shull was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 23 September 1915.
After completing his studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (1937) and New York University (1941), he began his career as a research physicist at the Texas Company in Beacon, USA. His research focused on the microstructure of catalysts used in the manufacture of high-performance aviation fuel.
In 1945, at the end of World War II, Shull began working at Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Tennessee, USA. There, from 1946 to 1955 and under the leadership of Ernest O. Wollan, he completed his award-winning work.
In 1948, with Wollan, he built a crystal diffractometer that allowed the selection of neutrons of a given velocity from among those that emerged in a fission reactor when incident on a standard salt crystal. In the neutron diffraction technique, a beam of neutrons of a single wavelength is passed through the material under study. The neutrons striking the atoms of the target material are scattered in a pattern which, when recorded on photographic film, produces information about the relative positions of the atoms in the material.
From 1955 until his retirement in 1986 he was Professor of Nuclear Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On 12 October 1994, he was awarded, together with fellow scientist Bertran N. Brockhouse, the Nobel Prize in Physics for his contribution to developing neutron scattering techniques.
After receiving the Nobel Prize, Shull gave the rounds of lectures normally required of Nobel laureates. He also contributed to the direction of science policy, especially about neutron research.
Shull died of kidney failure on 31 March 2001 in Lexington, Massachusetts. During his lifetime, he was honored with several awards and titles, including the Buckley Award of the American Physical Society (1956), election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1956), election to the National Academy of Sciences (1975), the Humboldt Senior Scientist Award (1979), the Tennessee Governor's Distinguished Scientist Award (1986), the Gregori Aminoff Award (1993) and the IM Frank Award (1994).