J. J. Thomson

J. J. Thomson

Infobox Scientist
box_width = 300px
name = J. J. Thomson

image_size = 200px
caption = Sir Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940). Portrait by Arthur Hacker.
birth_date = 18 December 1856
birth_place = Cheetham Hill, Manchester, UK
death_date = Death date and age|1940|8|30|1856|12|18|df=yes
death_place = Cambridge, UK
nationality = United Kingdom
fields = Physics
workplaces = University of Cambridge
alma_mater = University of Manchester
University of Cambridge
doctoral_advisor =
academic_advisors = John Strutt (Rayleigh)
Edward John Routh
doctoral_students =
notable_students = Charles T. R. Wilson
Ernest Rutherford
Francis William Aston
John Townsend
J. Robert Oppenheimer
Owen Richardson
William Henry Bragg
H. Stanley Allen
John Zeleny
Daniel Frost Comstock
Max Born
T. H. Laby
Paul Langevin
Balthasar van der Pol
known_for = Plum pudding model
Discovery of electron
Discovery of isotopes
Mass spectrometer invention
First m/e measurement
Proposed first waveguide
Thomson scattering
Thomson problem
Coining term 'delta ray'
Coining term 'epsilon radiation'
Thomson (unit)
author_abbrev_bot =
author_abbrev_zoo =
influences =
influenced =
religion = Anglican
awards = nowrap|Nobel Prize for Physics (1906)

footnotes = Thomson is the father of Nobel laureate George Paget Thomson.

Sir Joseph John “J.J.” Thomson, OM, FRS (18 December 1856 – 30 August 1940) was a British physicist and Nobel laureate, credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer. He was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the electron and his work on the conduction of electricity in gases.


Joseph J. Thomson was born in 1856 in Cheetham Hill, Manchester in England, of Scottish parentage. His father died when he was only 16 years old. [http://www-outreach.phy.cam.ac.uk/camphy/physicists/physicists_thomson.htm] In 1870 he studied engineering at University of Manchester known as Owens College at that time, and moved on to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1876. In 1880, he obtained his BA in mathematics (Second Wrangler and 2nd Smith's prize) and MA (with Adams Prize) in 1883. In 1884 he became Cavendish Professor of Physics. One of his students was Ernest Rutherford, who would later succeed him in the post. In 1890 he married Rose Elisabeth Paget, daughter of Sir George Edward Paget, KCB, a physician and then Regius Professor of Physic at Cambridge. He fathered one son, George Paget Thomson, and one daughter, Joan Paget Thomson, with her. One of Thomson's greatest contributions to modern science was in his role as a highly gifted teacher, as seven of his research assistants and his aforementioned son won Nobel Prizes in physics. His son won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for proving the wavelike properties of electrons.

He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1906, "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases." He was knighted in 1908 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1912. In 1914 he gave the Romanes Lecture in Oxford on "The atomic theory". In 1918 he became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death. He died on 30 August 1940 and was buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Sir Isaac Newton.

Thomson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society on 12 June 1884 and was subsequently President of the Royal Society from 1915 to 1920.


Cathode rays

Thomson conducted a series of experiments with cathode rays and cathode ray tubes leading him to the discovery of electrons and subatomic particles. Thomson used the cathode ray tube in three different experiments.

First experiment

In his first experiment, he investigated whether or not the negative charge could be separated from the cathode rays by means of magnetism. He constructed a cathode ray tube ending in a pair of cylinders with slits in them. These slits were in turn connected to an electrometer. Thomson found that if the rays were magnetically bent such that they could not enter the slit, the electrometer registered little charge. Thomson concluded that the negative charge was inseparable from the rays.

econd experiment

In his second experiment, he investigated whether or not the rays could be deflected by an electric field (something that is characteristic of charged particles). [ cite journal|title=Cathode Rays|journal= The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science|date=October 1897|first=J. J. |last=Thomson|coauthors=|volume=Fifth Series|issue=|pages=296|id= |url=http://www.aip.org/history/electron/jjappara.htm|format=|accessdate=2008-10-04 ] Previous experimenters had failed to observe this, but Thomson believed their experiments were flawed because they contained trace amounts of gas. Thomson constructed a cathode ray tube with a practically perfect vacuum, and coated one end with phosphorescent paint. Thomson found that the rays did indeed bend under the influence of an electric field, in a direction indicating a negative charge.

Third experiment

In his third experiment, Thomson measured the mass-to-charge ratio of the cathode rays by measuring how much they were deflected by a magnetic field and how much energy they carried. He found that the mass to charge ratio was over a thousand times "lower" than that of a hydrogen ion (H+), suggesting either that the particles were very light or very highly charged.

Thomson's conclusions were bold: cathode rays were indeed made of particles which he called "corpuscles", and these corpuscles came from within the atoms of the electrodes themselves, meaning that atoms are in fact divisible. The "corpuscles" discovered by Thomson are identified with the electrons which had been proposed by G. Johnstone Stoney. He conducted this experiment in 1897.

Thomson imagined the atom as being made up of these corpuscles swarming in a sea of positive charge; this was his plum pudding model. This model was later proved incorrect when Ernest Rutherford showed that the positive charge is concentrated in the nucleus.

Nobel Prize

Thomson's discovery was made known in 1897, and caused a sensation in scientific circles, eventually resulting in him being awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906. [ [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1906/thomson-lecture.html Thomson's 1906 Nobel Prize lecture] ] He notes that prior to his work: (1) the (negatively charged) cathode was known to be the source of the cathode rays; (2) the cathode rays were known to have the particle-like property of charge; (3) were deflected by a magnetic field like a negatively charged particle; (4) had the wave-like property of being able to penetrate thin metal foils; (5) had not yet been subject to deflection by an electric field.

Thomson succeeded in causing electric deflection because his cathode ray tubes were sufficiently evacuated that they developed only a low density of ions (produced by collisions of the cathode rays with the gas remaining in the tube). Their ion densities were low enough that the gas was a poor conductor, unlike the tubes of previous workers, where the ion density was high enough that the ions could screen out the electric field. He found that the cathode rays (which he called corpuscles) were deflected by an electric field in the same direction as negatively charged particles would deflect. With the electrons moving along, say, the x-direction, the electric field E pointing along the y-direction, and the magnetic field B pointing along the z-direction, by adjusting the ratio of the magnetic field B to the electric field E he found that the cathode rays moved in a nearly straight line, an indication of a nearly uniform velocity v=E/B for the cathode rays emitted by the cathode. He then removed the magnetic field and measured the deflection of the cathode rays, and from this determined the charge-to-mass ratio e/m for the cathode rays. He writes: "however the cathode rays are produced, we always get the same value of e/m for all the particles in the rays. We may...produce great changes in the velocity of the particles, but unless the velocity of the particles becomes so great that they are moving nearly as fast as light, when other considerations have to be taken into account, the value of e/m is constant. The value of e/m is not merely independent of the velocity...it is independent of the kind of electrodes we use and also of the kind of gas in the tube."

Thomson notes that "corpuscles" are emitted by hot metals and "Corpuscles are also given out by metals and other bodies, but especially by the alkali metals, when these are exposed to light. They are being continually given out in large quantities and with very great velocities by radioactive substances such as uranium and radium; they are produced in large quantities when salts are put into flames, and there is good reason to suppose that corpuscles reach us from the sun." Thomson also describes water drop experiments that enabled him to obtain a value for e that is about twice the modern value, and close to the then current value for the charge on a hydrogen ion in an electrolyte.

Isotopes and mass spectrometry

In 1913, as part of his exploration into the composition of canal rays, Thomson channelled a stream of ionized neon through a magnetic and an electric field and measured its deflection by placing a photographic plate in its path. Thomson observed two patches of light on the photographic plate (see image on right), which suggested two different parabolas of deflection. Thomson concluded that the neon gas was composed of atoms of two different atomic masses (neon-20 and neon-22).

This separation of neon isotopes by their mass was the first example of mass spectrometry, which was subsequently improved and developed into a general method by Thomson's student F. W. Aston and by A. J. Dempster.

Other work

In 1906 Thomson demonstrated that hydrogen had only a single electron per atom. Previous theories allowed various numbers of electrons. [The Timetables of Science|pages=411] cite journal|title=On the Number of Corpuscles in an Atom|journal=Philosophical Magazine|date=June 1906|first=J. J. |last=Thomson|coauthors=|volume=11|issue=|pages=769-781|id= |url=http://dbhs.wvusd.k12.ca.us/webdocs/Chem-History/Thomson-1906/Thomson-1906.html|format=|accessdate=2008-10-04 ]


* Royal Medal (1894)
* Hughes Medal (1902)
* Nobel Prize for Physics (1906)
* Copley Medal (1914)


* "A Treatise on the Motion of Vortex Rings: An essay to which the Adams Prize was adjudged in 1882, in the University of Cambridge" (1883), Macmillan and Co., London, pp.146, ISBN 0-5439-5696-2 (recent reprint)
* "Applications of Dynamics to Physics and Chemistry" (1888), Macmillan and Co., London, pp.326, ISBN 1-4021-8397-6 (recent reprint)
* "Notes on recent researches in electricity and magnetism: intended as a sequel to Professor Clerk-Maxwell's 'Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism"' (1893), Oxford at the Clarendon Press, pp.xvi and 578, ISBN 1-4297-4053-1 (1991 Cornell University Monograph)
* "Elements Of The Mathematical Theory Of Electricity And Magnetism" (1895 1st Ed; 1921 5th Ed), Macmillan and Co., London, [http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=w9kEAAAAYAAJ&dq=elements+of+the+mathematical+theory+of+electricity+and+magnetism&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=Mw8GUkl4QZ&sig=x2NrouxSJUBEt2Il72Bkw3QBs38#PPP7,M1 an on-line scan of the 1895 Ed.]
* "A Text book of Physics in Five Volumes: [http://ia341043.us.archive.org//load_djvu_applet.cgi?file=1/items/textbookofphysic01poynuoft/textbookofphysic01poynuoft.djvu Properties of Matter] , [http://books.google.com/books?id=e74KAAAAIAAJ&pg=PA3&dq=J.J.+Thomson&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=0_1#PPP6,M1 Sound] , [http://www.archive.org/details/textbookofphysic00poynuoft Heat] , Light, and [http://ia341240.us.archive.org//load_djvu_applet.cgi?file=2/items/textbookofphysi00poynuoft/textbookofphysi00poynuoft.djvu Magnetism & Electricity] " by Thomson and J.H. Poynting
* [http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/mksg/cnt/2005/00000047/00000004/art00001 "J. J. Thomson on the Nature of Matter: Corpuscles and the Continuum", Author: Navarro,Centaurus, Volume 47, Number 4, October 2005 , pp. 259-282(24)]



* Dahl, Per F., "Flash of the Cathode Rays: A History of J.J. Thomson's Electron". Institute of Physics Publishing. June, 1997. ISBN 0-7503-0453-7
* JJ Thomson (1897), [http://web.lemoyne.edu/~GIUNTA/thomson1897.html "Cathode rays"] , "Philosophical Magazine", 44, 293 — Discovery of the electron
* JJ Thomson (1913), [http://web.lemoyne.edu/~giunta/canal.html "Rays of positive electricity"] , "Proceedings of the Royal Society", A 89, 1-20 — Discovery of neon isotopes
* [http://dbhs.wvusd.k12.ca.us/webdocs/Chem-History/Thomson-Structure-Atom.html "On the Structure of the Atom] ": an Investigation of the Stability and Periods of Oscillation of a number of Corpuscles arranged at equal intervals around the Circumference of a Circle; with Application of the Results to the Theory of Atomic Structure" — J.J. Thomson's 1904 paper proposing the plum pudding model.
* [http://www.trin.cam.ac.uk/index.php?pageid=172 The Master of Trinity] at Trinity College, Cambridge

External links

* [http://www.aip.org/history/electron/ The Discovery of the Electron]
* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1906/ The Nobel Prize in Physics 1906]
* [http://alsos.wlu.edu/qsearch.aspx?browse=people/Thomson,+Joseph+J. Annotated bibliography for Joseph J. Thomson from the Alsos Digital Library]
* [http://www.asa3.org/asa/PSCF/1986/JASA6-86Seeger.html Essay on Thomson life and religious views]
* [http://members.chello.nl/~h.dijkstra19/page3.html The Cathode Ray Tube site]
* [http://dlxs2.library.cornell.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=cdl;idno=cdl022 Notes on recent researches in electricity and magnetism] Cornell University Library Historical Monographs Collection. {Reprinted by} [http://www.amazon.com/dp/1429740531/?tag=corneunivelib-20 Cornell University Library Digital Collections]
* [http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1906/thomson-lecture.html Nobel Prize acceptance lecture (1906)]

NAME=Thomson, Joseph John
SHORT DESCRIPTION=English physicist
DATE OF BIRTH=18 December 1856
PLACE OF BIRTH=Cheetham Hill, Manchester
DATE OF DEATH=30 August 1940

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Thomson Reuters — Corporation Type Public Traded as TSX: TRI NYSE:  …   Wikipedia

  • Thomson Corporation — Thomson Reuters Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson Reuters Corporation plc …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson Reuters Corporation — Thomson Reuters Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson Reuters Corporation plc …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson Scientific & Healthcare — Thomson Reuters Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson Reuters Corporation plc …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson corporation — Thomson Reuters Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson Reuters Corporation plc …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson (Familienname) — Thomson ist als eine Variante von Thompson ein englischer Familienname.[1] Thompson seinerseits ist eine patronymische Bildung mit der Bedeutung „Sohn des Thomas“.[2] Namensträger Alex Thomson (Kameramann) (1929–2007), britischer Kameramann Alex… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • THOMSON — (entreprise) Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson (entreprise) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson (entreprise francaise) — Thomson (entreprise) Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson (entreprise française) — Thomson (entreprise) Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Thomson CSF — Thomson (entreprise) Pour les articles homonymes, voir Thomson. Logo de Thomson …   Wikipédia en Français

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.