Atomic firsts

George Paget Thomson was the son of J.J. Thomson and, like his father, was a highly talented and brilliant man. After receiving a first class honours degree in Mathematics and Physics, he went on to do research and teaching. He aided the government in exploring the possible uses of fission for the war effort. He was also interested in nuclear fusion, the process which makes the sun shine.

Thomson’s most famous experiment was one that proved an earlier theory developed by Lois de Broglie in 1924. This was that electrons had wave-like properties.

During the middle of the 1920s he carried out a series of experiments using an apparatus called an electron diffraction camera. This instrument is now on display in the Science Museum. With it he bombarded very thin metal and celluloid foils with a narrow electron beam. The beam was then scattered into a series of rings.

Using these results, Thomson proved mathematically that the particles were acting like waves. The process of electron diffraction, which his experiments established, has been widely used in the investigation of the surfaces of solids. This was a direct development of the work begun by his father with the discovery of the electron.

For these achievements Thomson like his father before, won the Nobel Prize for Physics, which he shared with C.J. Davisson in 1937.

References

Andrade, E., Rutherford and the nature of the atom, : Archer Books, 1965
Bunge, M.; Shea, W., Rutherford and physics at the turn of the century., New York: Dawson, 1979
Crowther, J.G., Ernest Rutherford, London: Methuen Educational, 1972
Dahl, Per F., Flash of the cathode rays: A history of J.J. Thomson’s electron, London: Institute of Physics, 1997
Falcower, Isobel, Theory and experiment in J.J. Thomson’s work on gaseous and discharge, : University of Bath,
Larsen, E., The Cavendish Laboratory: Nursery of genius, London: Ward, 1962
Oliphant, Mark, Rutherford: recollections of the Cambridge days, Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1972
Pais, A., Inward bound: of matter and forces in the physical world, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986
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Yomiuri Shimbun, Treasures of the Science Museum, London: Science Museum, 1998
Springford, M., Electron: a centenary volume, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997
Thales; Thomson, Models and modelers of hydrogen, : , 1995
Thomson, G. P., Theory and practice of electron diffraction, London: Macmillan & Co, 1939
Thomson, G., The atom, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955
Thomson, G.P., The inspiration of science, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961
Thomson, G.P., J.J.Thomson and the Cavendish Laboratory in his day, Edinburgh: Nelson, 1964
Thomson, J.J., Recollections and reflections, London: G. Bell, 1936
Thomson, J.J., Conducting of electricity through gases, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Ward, F., Atomic physics, descriptive catalogue of the Science Museum, London: HMSO, 1963
Wilson, D., Rutherford's simple genius, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1983

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