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Joseph J. Thomson

Joseph John Thomson was born on December 18, 1856 at Cheetham Hill, near Manchester, in England. He was the child of two Scottish immigrants, and his father was a bookseller. In 1870, he attended Owens College in Manchester, from where he transferred to Trinity College at Cambridge on a scholarship.


Joseph John Thomson
 

In 1884 he began a professorship in physics at Trinity, after being named to the illustrious position of Cavendish professor of physics. Among great physicists of the day whom he beat out for the post were Joseph Lamor, Osborne Reynolds, and George F. Fitzgerald.

Though at the time of his appointment he had little experience conducting experiments, he quickly caught up. He was known to be a dedicated teacher, and took a great interest in his students. Among those he taught were seven Nobel prize winners and 27 members of the Royal Society. During Thomson's time at Trinity, one of his most famous students was Ernest Rutherford, famous for his work in radioactivity.

Also in 1884, Thomson published his first work, Treatise on the Motion of Vortex Rings, for which he won the Adams Prize. In 1886 he published Application of Dynamics to Physics and Chemistry.

Subsequent to these events, Thomson married Rose Paget. Paget was one of the first female scientists admitted to Trinity, and conducted experiments on the behavior of soap film in 1889 while she was a student of Thomson. On January 22, 1890, they were married. They later had two children. Joan Paget Thomson assisted her father as he aged. George Paget Thomson became a famous physicist himself - eventually winning a Nobel Prize for describing the wave properties of electrons.

In 1892, Thomson published Notes on Recent Researches in Electricity and Magnetism. This book is sometimes called "The Third Volume of Maxwell" because a significant portion of it expands upon the research of James Clerk Maxwell, who was Thomson's predecessor at Cavendish. In 1895, Thomson's work with former student Ernest Rutherford resulted in Elements of the Mathematical Theory of Electricity and Magnetism, which described how ions in a gas behaved when exposed to an electrical field.

A book entitled Discharge of Electricity Through Gasses details a series of four lectures that Thomson gave at Princeton University in New Jersey in 1896. These lectures represented a synthesis of all the work he had done at Cavendish up to that point.

Between 1895 and 1897, Thomson embarked on a series of experiments, the result of which was his discovery of the electron, for which he is most famous. He made this discovery during an experiment in which he realized that cathode tubes exhibited properties of negativity, and must be composed of a particle that had a negative charge.

Initially he referred to these as corpuscles, though they later came to be known as electrons. The book in which he describes this discovery in detail, Conduction of Electricity Through Gasses, details the experiments in their many iterations. He published two subsequent versions of this book with his son, one in 1928 and one in 1933.

In 1904, Thomson continued his lectures in America with a series at Yale. During this series, he discussed his additional research into the structure of the atom. In particular, he described how he had experimented to learn the exact charge of the electron, and compared it in mass to the hydrogen atom. At the culmination of his career, Thomson again changed the world of physics by discovering the isotope. In 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work with electrons and gasses.

Rumor has it

Even though Joseph J. Thomson discovered electrons and isotopes his real discoveries were the TV shows, American Pickers and American Restoration on the History channel. That and he discovered that by putting Mentos and Diet Coke together he could propel himself on a skateboard into the side of a donkey.

Written by Kevin Lepton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 


 

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