J. J. Thomson

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



Joseph John Thomson was born in 1856 in Cheetham Hill, Manchester, England. His mother, Emma Swindells, came from a local textile family. His father, Joseph James Thomson, ran an antiquarian bookshop founded by a great-grandfather from Scotland (hence the Scottish spelling of his surname). He had a brother two years younger than him, Frederick Vernon Thomson.[1]

His early education took place in small private schools where he demonstrated great talent and interest in science. In 1870 he was admitted to Owens College. Being only 14 years old at the time, he was unusually young. His parents planned to enroll him as an apprentice engineer to Sharp-Stewart & Co., a locomotive manufacturer, but these plans were cut short when his father died in 1873.[1] He 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.[2] 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.

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