Sir Joseph John Thomson (1856-1940)

English physicist. Born on 18 December 1856 at Cheetham Hill, near Manchester. Thomson studied engineering at Owen’s College, Manchester, then in 1876 he won a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated in mathematics in 1880. He remained at Cambridge University for the rest of his life. In 1884 he became Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics.

Thomson is best known for his discovery of the electron in 1897 and for his investigation into its charge and mass. He also developed a mathematical theory of electricity and magnetism, and in 1906 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research into the electrical conductivity of gases. In 1908 he received a knighthood.

In 1912 he proved the existence of isotopes of neon. Thomson was also responsible for establishing the Cavendish Laboratory as a leading research centre for subatomic physics. His works include Elements of the Mathematical Theory of Electricity and Magnetism (1895) and Conduction of Electricity through Gases (1903). From 1915 to 1920 he served as president of the Royal Society and in 1918 he was elected Master of Trinity College. He held this post until he died in Cambridge on 30 August 1940.