|J. J. Thomson|
(1856 – 1940)
Joseph John Thompson was born in 1856 in Manchester, England and was taught mainly in private schools at the beginning. In 1876, he enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge where he received his Bachelor's and Master's degree. When Thompson became Cavendish Professor of Physics, Ernest Rutherford was among his students and later on, he succeeded Thompson in the post. Thompson was known to be an excellent teacher. Seven of his research assistants and his son were able to win the Nobel Prizes in physics. Thompson himself was awarded the famous prize in 1906 "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases." Two years later, he was knighted. In 1918, Thompson became Master of the Trinity College in Cambridge.
The fact that atoms were built up from a more fundamental unit was already suggested by scientists like William Prout or Norman Lockyer. However, J. J. Thompson was the first known scientist to suggest that the fundamental unit was over 1000 times smaller than an atom. Today, the subatomic particle is known as the electron. To achieve this discovery, Thompson used his explorations on the properties of cathode rays. He published his suggestion on 30 April 1897 following his discovery that Lenard rays could travel much further through air than expected for an atom-sized particle. At first, he estimated the mass of cathode rays through the heat that was generated when the rays hit a thermal junction. Then Thompson compared his result with the magnetic deflection of the rays. As a result, Thompson could suggest that cathode rays were more than 100 times lighter than the hydrogen atom and also, he concluded that their mass was the same in whichever type of atom they came from. He then concluded that the rays were composed of light and negatively charged particles, a universal building block of atoms. Thompson named the particles "corpuscles", but scientists preferred the name electron which had been suggested by George Johnstone Stoney prior to Thompson's discovery. One month after Thompson's important announcement of the corpuscle he found that he could reliably deflect the rays by an electric field if he evacuated the discharge tube to a very low pressure. By comparing the deflection of a beam of cathode rays by electric and magnetic fields he obtained more robust measurements of the mass to charge ratio that confirmed his previous estimates. This became the classic means of measuring the charge and mass of the electron. Thomson believed that the corpuscles emerged from the atoms of the trace gas inside his cathode ray tubes. He concluded that atoms were divisible, and that the corpuscles were their building blocks. To explain the overall neutral charge of the atom, he proposed that the corpuscles were distributed in a uniform sea of positive charge. His model became widely known as the "plum pudding" model of atoms. Ernest Rutherford disproved this model later on with his famous gold foil experiment, which led to the discovery of the nucleus.
|J. J. Thomson's cathode ray tube with electromagnetic deflection coils|
At yovisto, you may be interested in a very easily to understand lecture on the Discovery of the Electron by Tyler DeWitt.
References and Further Reading: