SIR J J THOMSON – The Discoverer of Electron

Everything in the universe is made up of atoms. Atoms are composed of Protons, Electrons and Neutrons. Protons are positively charged, Electrons are negatively charged and neutrons are electrically neutral. Electrons were first discovered by J J Thomson. He took science to the new heights with his discovery.

Sir J J Thomson in full Sir Joseph John Thomson was born on December 18th, 1856 in Cheetham Hill near Manchester, England. His parents were Joseph Thames Thomson and Emma Swindells. His mother came from a family which owned a cotton company. His father possessed a specialist book shop since three generations. Sir J J Thomson had a pet name Joey. He started growing interest towards science since he was young. He became a student at Owens College of Manchester University at the age of 14. He studied mathematics, physics and engineering.

Joey was very shy when he was young. His parents wished that he would become an apprentice engineer with a locomotive company. But they were shattered when Joey lost his dad at the age of 16. His mother could not afford engineering apprenticeships as their fees was too high.


Joey needed funds to continue his education. He won a scholarship in 1876 from the University of Cambridge to pursue mathematics. He was graduated with high honors in his bachelors degree after four years. He also won the Adam’s Prize in 1882. It was one of the universities most wanted prize in mathematics. He was awarded a master’s degree in the year 1883.

J J thomson got the opportunity of doing experimental research in Cavendish laboratory. He began to develop the theory of electromagnetism. At the age of 40, he carried out his most predominant experiment on cathode ray tube and discovered the existence of a new fundamental particle called electron in the atom. He found it is much smaller than the atom and made a correction to the scientist’s statements till date that atom was the smallest fundamental particle in existence.

Thomson was awarded the Nobel prize in 1906 for his discovery. Two years later he was knighted in 1908 thus becoming Sir J. J. Thomson. He also invented mass spectrometer which is a tool for chemical analysis. He also proved that hydrogen had only single electron per atom.

He married Rose Elizabeth Paget in 1890. She was working as a young physicist in his laboratory. She was the daughter of a medical professor working in Cambridge University. the couple had a son George and a daughter Joan. George won the Nobel prize in 1937 for proving that electrons can behave like waves.

Joey always liked to spend his free time doing gardening in his large garden and this was his favorite task other than doing research. He was described as dark man who shaves very badly and wears his hair rather long. He was very humble and modest and had a great sense of humor. He enjoyed long walks and was a great fan of Cambridge cricket and rugby teams. He liked to meet many people and make new friends.

Sir J.J. Thomson died at the age of 83 on August 30th, 1940. His ashes were buried in the Nave of Westminster Abbey joining other great scientists like Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Ernest Rutherford.

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