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J. J. Thomson and The Electron: 1897–1899 An Introduction

  • Chemistry and History
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The Chemical Educator


Three Seminal Papers of J. J. Thomson This being the 100th anniversary of J. J. Thomson’s discovery of the electron, the October 1897 paper in which he presented his case that cathode rays are streams of subatomic “corpuscles” is attracting a great deal of attention. Viewed from 100 years later, this paper stands out as the starting point for the research into the structure of the atom that has dominated 20th-century science. Viewed in its original historical context, however, this paper was but one of a group by Thomson and his Cavendish Laboratory research students and is matched in importance by his two ensuing papers: “On the Charge of Electricity carried by the Ions produced by Röntgen Rays” published in December 1898 and “On the Masses of the Ions in Gases at Low Pressures” published in December 1899. All three of these seminal papers, which appeared in the prestigious Philosophical Magazine, are included here, along with the published text of Thomson’s talk of April 30, 1897, in which he first put the subatomic proposal forward and George Fitzgerald’s commentary on this talk.

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SMITH, G.E. J. J. Thomson and The Electron: 1897–1899 An Introduction. Chem. Educator 2, 1–42 (1997).

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