Joseph John Thomson announced in 1897 the discovery of a particle lighter than all known elements — the electron.
Joseph John Thomson was born in Cheetham Hill, a suburb of Manchester on December 18, 1856. He enrolled at Owens College, Manchester, in 1870, and in 1876 entered Trinity College, Cambridge as a minor scholar. He became a Fellow of Trinity College in 1880, when he was Second Wrangler and Second Smith’s Prizeman, and he remained a member of the College for the rest of his life, becoming Lecturer in 1883 and Master in 1918. He was Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at Cambridge, where he succeeded Lord Rayleigh, from 1884 to 1918 and Honorary Professor of Physics, Cambridge and Royal Institution, London.
Thomson’s early interest in atomic structure was reflected in his Treatise on the Motion of Vortex Rings which won him the Adams Prize in 1884. His Application of Dynamics to Physics and Chemistry appeared in 1886, and in 1892 he had his Notes on Recent Researches in Electricity and Magnetism published.
In 1896, Thomson visited America to give a course of four lectures, which summarised his current researches, at Princeton. These lectures were subsequently published as Discharge of Electricity through Gases (1897). On his return from America, he achieved the most brilliant work of his life – an original study of cathode rays culminating in the discovery of the electron, which was announced during the course of his evening lecture to the Royal Institution on Friday, April 30, 1897.
Visit the official web site of the Nobel Foundation to read more about J.J. Thomson.
Excerpted with permission, www.nobelprize.org