Lord Rayleigh Biography

(Discoverer of Argon)

Birthday: November 12, 1842 (Scorpio)

Born In: Langford Grove, Maldon, Essex, England

John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, was an English physicist noted for his discovery of the Argon gas, one of the rare gases of the atmosphere. Rayleigh was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1904 for this achievement. He shared the prize with chemist William Ramsay. He is also the famous for his discovery of ‘Rayleigh scattering’ which explains why the sky is blue. He also predicted about the surface waves, a phenomenon which is now named after him: ‘Rayleigh waves’. With hi patient experiments, he established the standards of resistance, current and electromotive force. Later in his life, he focused on electric and magnetic problems. Lord Rayleigh was a brilliant instructor. He supervised a practical instruction class in experimental physics and increased its roll-strength of five or six students to an advanced school of seventy physicists. He had a great sense of literary style and every paper he wrote was precise and simple in diction. He was a member of the House of Lords, but never allowed politics to interfere with science. He enjoyed tennis, music, travelling, and photography.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In November

Also Known As: John William Strutt, third Baron Rayleigh

Died At Age: 76


Spouse/Ex-: Evelyn Balfour

father: John Strutt, 2nd Baron Rayleigh

children: 4th Baron Rayleigh, Robert John Strutt

Physicists British Men

Died on: June 30, 1919

place of death: Terling Place, Witham, Essex, England

discoveries/inventions: Argon

More Facts

education: Harrow School, University of Cambridge, Trinity College, Cambridge

awards: 1904 - Nobel Prize for Physics
1899 - Copley Medal

Childhood & Early Life
John William Strutt, third Baron Rayleigh, was born on November 12, 1842 at Langford Grove, Maldon, Essex to John James Srutt and Clara Elizabeth Latouche Vicars.
His father was the second Baron Rayleigh of Terling Place, Witham, Essex.
John was the eldest of all his siblings— Clara, Richard, Charles and Edward.
He belonged from a family of landowners with no interest in science; the only exception was his distant relative, Robert Boyle.
During childhood, he suffered from a frail health and his schooling was interrupted due to frequent bouts of illness.
He attended the Elton School and the Harrow School.
In 1857, he went to Torquay and studied there for four years under Rev. George Townsend Warner.
In 1861 he joined Trinity College, Cambridge to study Mathematics.
He graduated in the Mathematical Tripos in 1865 as Senior Wrangler and Smith's Prizeman. In 1868, he obtained a Master of Arts degree.
In 1866 Rayleigh received a fellowship at Trinity, which he held until 1871.
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In 1871, Rayleigh published his theory of scattering which was the first right explanation of the blue color of the sky.
From 1876 to 1878, he served as President of the London Mathematical Society.
In 1877 he published the first volume of his major text ‘The Theory of Sound’. The second volume came out in the next year.
From 1879 to 1884, Lord Rayleigh served as the second Cavendish Professor of Physics. During this time, he carried out experiments on standardisation ohm. He explained the results of this experiment in his presidential address to the British Association in Montreal.
In 1884 he returned to Terling to carry out practical experiments at his own estate.
Lord Rayleigh was elected the secretary of the Royal Society in 1885.
In 1896, he was appointed scientific advisor to Trinity House, the association of English seamen.
In 1900, he established the National Physical Laboratory set up at Teddington in Middlesex.
In 1902, before winning the Nobel Prize,Rayleigh wrote the entry on argon for the 10th edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’.
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From 1887 to 1905 he was also the Professor of Natural Philosophy at the Royal Institution.
Lord Rayleigh was elected President of the Royal Society in 1905 and he held the position for three years.
In 1908, he became the Chancellor of Cambridge University. He retained the position till his death.
Major Works
Lord Rayleigh made the interesting discovery that the density of nitrogen available in the atmosphere is greater than the density obtained from chemical compounds. This anomaly, along with some observations made by the 18th century scientist Henry Cavendish inspired him to launch a long experimental program. In 1895, he isolated the gas and named it ‘argon’, derived from the Greek word that means ‘inactive’. This discovery won him Nobel Prize.
Awards & Achievements
Lord Rayleigh received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1904 for his discovery of the argon gas. He donated the proceeds of the Prize to the University of Cambridge to build an annex to the Cavendish laboratories.
He was an original recipient of the Order of Merit in 1902.
He received thirteen honorary degrees, five government awards, and honorary membership of five learned societies. Some of these are the Royal Medal (1882), the Matteucci Medal (1894), Elliott Cresson Medal (1913).
On 1 June 2007, the asteroid 22740 Rayleigh was named in his honor.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Evelyn Balfour, the sister of the future prime minister, the Earl of Balfour, and daughter of James Maitland Balfour, in 1871.
He suffered from rheumatic fever right after his marriage. So, he and his wife went for a recuperative trip to Egypt. It was during this trip that he started writing ‘The Theory of Sound’.
Lord Rayligh worked on his scientific papers even five days before his death. He died on 30 June 1919, in Witham, Essex.

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