|Happy Birthday Mr. Thomson!|
In 1876, Thomson was awarded an entrance scholarship to Trinity College in Cambridge, England and in 1880 he completed his degree, finishing second in his class. After graduation, Thomson stayed in Cambridge and was made a Fellow of Trinity. During this time, J.J. concentrated on studies in physics, and began experimental work at the Cavendish Laboratory under Lord Rayleigh. Thomson entered physics at an important point in its history. Following the great discoveries of the 19th century in electricity, magnetism, and thermodynamics, many physicists believed that their science was complete and would yield no new great discoveries. A year later, Thomson published his first major paper in the Philosophical Magazine showing that an electrified sphere, by acting as a current when it moves, would have an extra mass as a result of its charge. This work was the first hint of a connection between mass and energy.
Thomson's achievements were recognized by his peers early on, an in 1884 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London and appointed to the chair of physics at the Cavendish Laboratory. On January 22, 1890 J.J. Thomson married Rose Paget. Rose was a researcher at the Cavendish lab and among the first generation of women permitted into advanced studies at the University. J.J. and Rose had two children: George Paget Thomson became a prominent physicist himself and was later awarded the Nobel Prize (1937) for proving that the electron was in fact a wave, and Joan Paget Thomson often accompanied her father in his travels.
In 1918, Thomson became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death. J.J. Thomson died on August 30, 1940 and is buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Isaac Newton.
For more information on the work of J.J. Thomson, visit our module titled Atomic Theory I: The Early Days.
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