William Crookes

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Sir William Crookes, OM, FRS (17 June 1832 – 4 April 1919) was a chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, in London, and worked on spectroscopy.

He was a pioneer of vacuum tubes, inventing the Crookes tube.



Early years

William Crookes was born in London, the eldest son of Joseph Crookes, a tailor of north-country origin whose second wife was Mary Scott.


Rise as prominent chemist

From 1850 to 1854 he filled the position of assistant in the college, and soon embarked upon original work, not in organic chemistry where the inspiration of his teacher, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, might have been expected to lead him, but on new compounds of selenium. These formed the subject of his first published papers in 1851.

Leaving the Royal College, he became superintendent of the meteorological department at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford in 1854, and in 1855 was appointed lecturer in chemistry at the Chester Diocesan Training College.

Married now and living in London, he was devoted mainly to independent work. After 1880, he lived at 7 Kensington Park Gardens, where all his later work was carried out in his private laboratory. Crookes's life was one of unbroken scientific activity. The breadth of his interests, ranging over pure and applied science, economic and practical problems, and psychical research, made him a well-known personality, and he received many public and academic honours. In 1859, he founded the Chemical News, a science magazine which he edited for many years and conducted on much less formal lines than is usual with journals of scientific societies.

Crookes was knighted in 1897, and in 1910 received the Order of Merit.


In 1861, Crookes discovered a previously unknown element with a bright green emission line in its spectrum and named the element thallium, from the Greek thallos, a green shoot. Crookes also identified the first known sample of helium, in 1895. He was the inventor of the Crookes radiometer, which today is made and sold as a novelty item. He also developed the Crookes tubes, investigating cathode rays.

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