Thomson, J. J. (Joseph John), 1856-1940

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1856-12-18
Death 1940-08-30
GB
English

Biographical notes:

English physicist.

From the description of Autograph letter signed : Trinity Lodge, Cambridge, to Sir Sydney Cockerell, 1927 Feb. 12. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270572272

Physicist (cathode rays, atomic structure, electrons) and administrator. On the faculty at University of Cambridge (1884-1940): director, Cavendish Laboratory (1884-1918), physics faculty (1894-1919), and master of Trinity College (1918-1940); and on the natural philosophy faculty at the Royal Institution of Great Britain from 1905. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906 for his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases.

From the description of A treatise on the motion of vortex rings, 1882. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79789833

Physicist (cathode rays, atomic structure, electrons) and administrator. On the faculty at University of Cambridge, 1884-1940: director, Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge, 1884-1918; master of Trinity College, 1918-1940; and on the natural philosopy faculty at the Royal Institution of Great Britain from 1905. He won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906 for his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases.

From the description of Congratulatory tribute on Thomson's seventieth birthday signed by members of the Cavendish Laboratory, 1926. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83157677

Physicist (cathode rays, atomic structure, electrons) and administrator. On the faculty at University of Cambridge (1884-1940): director, Cavendish Laboratory (1884-1918), physics faculty (1894-1919), and master of Trinity College (1918-1940); and on the natural philosophy faculty at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1905-1918).

From the description of Papers. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 154302974

From the description of Papers, 1884-1934. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 81212195

From the description of Lectures, 1910-1911. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 83382533

Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940) was born in Manchester and attended Owens College, Manchester, in 1871. Thomson won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1876 came to the university to read for the Mathematical Tripos. He was elected a fellow of Trinity, and in 1885 was appointed Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics.

Thomson began his life-long investigation of the passage of electricity through gases before his appointment as Cavendish Professor. His work was given impetus in 1895 by Rontgen's discovery of X-rays which Thomson found caused gases through which they passed to become conductors of electricity. Thomson investigated the nature of this phenomenon with Ernest Rutherford, and from their research they were able to determine the process by which a current is passed through a gas and the role X-rays play in this process.

Thomson proceeded to the study of discharge-cathode rays. His work led to him to conclude that the rays were a fundamental constituent of the atom, carrying negative electricity, and that their number and arrangement in the atom determined that atom's position in the periodic table. When Thomson first put forward his theory in 1897 his ideas were greeted with scepticism, but two more years of research by himself and others provided the experimental evidence to confirm his ideas about the electron.

Thomson continued to study the structure of the atom and the arrangement of electrons within it, but from 1906 to 1914 he also turned his attention to the study of positive rays. He developed and refined the techniques used to photograph positive rays in the discharge tube. The increased sensitivity of his apparatus allowed him to identify new atomic groupings and isolate for the first time isotopes as unstable elements.

Thomson resigned as Cavendish Professor in favour of Rutherford in 1919, but held a special chair until his death. He was active outside the university in urging recognition of the importance of scientific education and research to the country as a whole. During the First World War he served on the Board of Invention and Research (B.I.R.), set up by the Admiralty to encourage and coordinate naval research. He was also a member of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and became the first President of the Institute of Physics. Thomson also presided over the Royal Commission report on the position of natural science in the education system of Great Britain. In 1915 he was elected President of the Royal Society, which he headed until 1920. In 1919 he was appointed Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and devoted the last years of his life to running its affairs. He died on 30 August 1940.

From the guide to the Sir Joseph John Thomson: Correspondence and Papers, c.1880-1939, (Cambridge University Library, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Education
  • Physical Phenomena
  • Physics
  • Examination
  • Atomic theory
  • Electrons
  • Quantum theory--History
  • Solid state physics
  • Lectures (teaching method)
  • Cathode rays--Study and teaching
  • Matter--Properties
  • Relativity (Physics)
  • Wave mechanics
  • Atomic structure
  • Natural Science
  • Mathematics
  • Physics--History
  • Vortex-motion
  • Radiation--Study and teaching
  • Cathode rays--Research
  • Complementarity (Physics)

Occupations:

  • Physicists

Places:

  • Massachusetts (as recorded)
  • Indiana (as recorded)
  • Ohio (as recorded)
  • Vinton County (Ohio) (as recorded)