Charles Thomson Rees Wilson Biography

(Scottish Physicist, Meteorologist and Winner of the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics)

Birthday: February 14, 1869 (Aquarius)

Born In: Glencorse, Scotland

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was a Scottish meteorologist and physicist. Early in his life, he was interested in natural science and studied to become a doctor. However, he later grew interested in physics and chemistry and went on to complete his graduation. Throughout his career, he got the opportunity to conduct research, teach and work as a reader and demonstrator at the Cambridge university. His most significant works include his observation on the formation of clouds and subsequent development of the cloud chamber, research on the behaviour of ions and so on. He received the prestigious Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927 for ‘for his method of making the paths of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapour’. He was honored with several other awards and recognitions for his research and contribution to physics. Throughout his life, he remained active in the field of science and during his final years, he worked on documenting on the ‘theory of thundercloud electricity’.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: C.T.R. Wilson

Died At Age: 90


Spouse/Ex-: Jessie Fraser

father: John Wilson

mother: Annie Clerk Harper

Physicists Meteorologists

Died on: November 15, 1959

place of death: Carlops, Scotland

Notable Alumni: Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Owens College

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

discoveries/inventions: Cloud Chamber

More Facts

education: Owens College, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

awards: Royal Medal (1922)
Howard N. Potts Medal (1925)
FRS (1900)

Nobel Prize in Physics (1927)
Franklin Medal (1929)
Duddell Medal and Prize (1931)

Childhood & Early Life
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was born on 14 February 1869 at Midlothian in Scotland to farmer John Wilson and Annie Clerk Harper.
His father died in 1873 and his family shifted to Manchester. He completed his primary education at Greenheyes Collegiate School in Manchester.
Later he enrolled in the Owen’s College and took up majors in Biology, with the intent to pursue a career in medicine. In 1888, he received a scholarship and went to Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. While studying here he grew interested in physics and chemistry.
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Charles Thomson Rees Wilson taught at the Bradford Grammar School in Yorkshire for a brief period, but since he had keen interest in science so he soon joined Cambridge as a demonstrator for medical students.
He was interested in studying meteorology and in 1893 he began his research on clouds and their various properties. During this time, he worked at an observatory at Ben Nevis where he used to conduct his observations. He tried to create a similar formation in his Cambridge laboratory with humid air and sealed containers.
He further conducted research on cloud formations due to radiation and ions at his chamber. By 1896, it was proved that the ions in gases could be detected, photographed and recorded for later studies.
The same year he was awarded with a scholarship, ‘Clerk Maxwell Student’, that allowed him to engage in research for the next three years. Between the years 1896 and 1900, he focused on studying the behaviour of ions as condensation nuclei.
In 1900, he was appointed a lecturer, demonstrator and fellow at the Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Until 1918 he taught advanced practical physics at the Cavendish Laboratory. In 1901, he also carried out studies on atmospheric electricity.
By 1912, Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was able to optimize his creation, cloud chamber, a particle detector that was used to detect ionizing radiation. This creation proved significant for scientists during the 1920s and 1930s as many theories and ideas were supported and proved by its use. Some of the most important accomplishments include proving the ‘Compton Effect’ by Arthur Compton, discovery of positron by Anderson, the demonstration of ‘pair creation’ and ‘annihilation’ of electrons and positrons by Blackett and Occhialini, transmutation of atomic nucleiby Cockcroft and Walton.
He was appointed an observer in the Meteorological Physics at the Solar Physics in 1913. While working here, he was able to study the tracks of ionizing particles and research on thunderstorm electricity. In 1918, he was made a Reader in Electrical Meteorology.
A few years later in 1925, he took up the post of Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy, where he remained until 1934. While working here, he created a method of protecting the British wartime barrage balloons from lightning by using his understanding of thunderstorms. In 1956, he published his theory on thunderstorm electricity.
Post his retirement, he shifted to Edinburgh, and later to the village of Carlops at Glencorse. During this time, he worked on his manuscript on the ‘theory of thundercloud electricity’.
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Major Works
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was an eminent physicist who became well-known for his research on clouds and his creation, ‘cloud chamber’.
Awards & Achievements
In 1900, he was appointed a Fellow of the Royal Society.
He was awarded the Royal Medal by the Royal Society in 1922.
He received the Howard N. Potts Medal by the by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia in 1925.
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927.
In 1929 he was awarded the Franklin Medal by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia.
He received the Duddell Medal and Prize by the Institute of Physics in 1931.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1908 Charles Thomson Rees Wilson married Jessie Fraser who was daughter of Minister Rev. G. H. Dick at Glasgow. The couple had four children – two sons and two daughters.
He died on 15 November 1959 at Edinburgh in Scotland. He was 90 at the time of his death.

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