J. J. Thomson Biography

J.J. Thomson was an English physicist and mathematician. This biography profiles his childhood, life, academic career, research and timeline.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Sir Joseph John Thomson

Famous as: Physicist, Nobel Prize Winner

Nationality: British

Birth Date: December 18, 1856

Died At Age: 83

Sun Sign: Sagittarius

Born in: Manchester, Lancashire, UK

father: Joseph James Thomson

mother: Emma Swindells

siblings: Frederick Vernon Thomson

Spouse/Partner: Rose Elisabeth Paget

children: George Paget Thomson, Joan Paget Thomson

religion: Anglican/Episcopalian

Died on: August 30, 1940

place of death: Cambridge, UK

discoveries/inventions: Electrons And Isotopes And Inventing The Mass Spectrometer

More Facts

education: University of Cambridge, Trinity College, Cambridge, University of Manchester, Victoria University of Manchester

awards: Smith's Prize (1880)
Royal Medal (1894)
Hughes Medal (1902)

Nobel Prize for Physics (1906)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1910)
Copley Medal (1914)
Albert Medal (1915)
Franklin Medal (1922)
Faraday Medal (1925)

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J.J. Thomson was an English physicist and mathematician. Thomson was a child prodigy who first went to college at the age of 14 and continued his progression to become one of the most gifted scientists of his generation. Thomson became the Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge at a very young age but he made his greatest achievement when he did a detailed study of cathode rays and proved the existence of the electron in atoms; that would go on to have far reaching effects in the study of the natural sciences. Thomson also delivered lectures at some of the leading universities in the world like Princeton University and Yale University as a guest which further enhanced his reputation as a scientist of rare gift. Other than the Nobel Prize in Physics, Thomson went on to win several other important medals throughout a career that produced scientific discoveries that would shape scientific research for many years.

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J. J. Thomson
Childhood & Early Life
  • Joseph John Thomson was born to Joseph James Thomson and his wife Emma Swindells on 18 December, 1856 in the Cheetham Hill area of Manchester located in Lancashire, United Kingdom. His father was the owner of a bookshop that dealt in antiquarian books. J.J. Thomson had one younger brother.
  • Thomson was a child prodigy of sorts due to his remarkable grasp of the sciences from an early age. He was allowed to take admission to Owens College in 1870, when he was only 14 years old.
  • In 1876, at the age of 20 Thomson won a place at Trinity College, University of Cambridge to study mathematics. He received his bachelors degree 4 years later with first class honours and was one of the two students who won the Smith’s Prize, which is a prize meant for students of mathematics and theoretical physics who are engaged in research.
  • In 1881, he was made a Fellow of Trinity College and 2 years later he completed his MA from Cambridge University. Thomson was also bestowed with the prestigious Adams Prize, which is awarded by Cambridge University to outstanding research efforts.
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  • Thomson started his career at Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and further enhanced his reputation as one of the most gifted mathematicians through his efforts. It was in 1884 that the members of the Royal Society elected him as a member and by the end of the same year Thomson was appointed as the Cavendish Professor of ExperimentalPhysics at the University of Cambridge.
  • His earliest research work was based on the structure of atoms and his first published paper was titled ‘Motion of Vortex Rings’ and in that particular paper he used pure mathematics to describe the vortex theory in relation to atomic structure as propounded by William Thomson.
  • Much of Thomson’s early research centred on mathematical explanation of chemical phenomena and the result was the 1886 book ‘Applications of Dynamics to Physics and Chemistry’. Six years later he published ‘Researches in Electricity and Dynamism’.
  • In 1896, Princeton University invited him to deliver lectures on the subjects on which he had worked. The contents of those lectures were all documented in the book ‘Discharge of Electricity through Gases’ that was published the following year.
  • He undertook the most important original research of his career in the year 1897 when he started is seminal research on cathode rays that led him through different alleys and one of the most significant discoveries out of that research was the discovery of the electron in relation to atoms which changed the face of the natural sciences.
  • In a series of lectures delivered at the famous University of Yale in 1904, he demonstrated how an atom was structured and also explained the different principles of electricity. In addition to this, Thomson stated that positive rays could be used in order to separate atoms.
  • He spent the latter part of his career in conducting research on isotopes that led to the discovery of positive ions and later on he went on to make such important discoveries as the radioactivity of the element potassium. On the other hand he was also able to assert that hydrogen did not have more than one electron.
Major Works
  • J. J. Thomson’s most important work centred around the research on cathode rays that led to the discovery of the electron and he won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1906 for this path breaking discovery.
Awards & Achievements
  • Thomson won the Royal Medal in 1894.
  • The Royal Society of London awarded J. J. Thomson the Hughes Medal in 1902.
  • In 1906, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the discovery of the electron.
  • The Franklin Institute awarded him the Elliott Cresson Medal in 1910 and 12 years later the same institute gave him the Franklin Medal.
  • The Royal Society awarded him the Copley Medal in 1914 and a year later the Royal School of Arts awarded him the Albert Medal.
  • In 1918, Thomson was made a ‘Master of Trinity College’.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • J. J. Thomson married Rose Elisabeth Paget in 1890. They had two children- a son named George Paget Thomson and a daughter named Joan Paget Thomson. The son went on to become a Nobel Prize winning physicist.
  • He died at the age of 83 on 30 August, 1940. His body was buried at the famous Westminster Abbey.

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How To Cite

Article Title
- J. J. Thomson Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com
Last Updated
- September 24, 2017

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J. J. Thomson