, Volume 20, Issue 11, pp 1964-1973
Date: 22 Jan 2011

J. J. Thomson goes to America


Joseph John (J. J.) Thomson was an accomplished scientist who helped lay the foundations of nuclear physics. A humble man of working class roots, Thomson went on to become one of the most influential physicists of the late 19th century. He is credited with the discovery of the electron, received a Nobel Prize in physics in 1906 for investigations into the conduction of electricity by gases, was knighted in 1908, and served as a Cavendish Professor and Director of the laboratory for over 35 years from 1884. His laboratory attracted some of the world’s brightest minds; Francis W. Aston, Niels H. D. Bohr, Hugh L. Callendar, Charles T. R. Wilson, Ernest Rutherford, George F. C. Searle, Geoffrey I. Taylor, and John S. E. Townsend all worked under him. This article recounts J. J. Thomson’s visits to North America in 1896, 1903, 1909, and finally 1923. It presents his activities and his personal impressions of the people and society of the U.S.A. and Canada, and the science of atomic physics and chemistry in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Published online July 18, 2009