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A History of the Electron

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A History of the Electron
Cambridge University Press
9781107005228 - A History of the Electron - J. J. and G. P. Thomson - By Jaume Navarro
Frontmatter/Prelims

A History of the Electron

Two landmarks in the history of physics are the discovery of the particulate nature of cathode rays (the electron) by J. J. Thomson in 1897, and the experimental demonstration by his son G. P. Thomson in 1927 that the electron exhibits the properties of a wave. Together, the Thomsons are two of the most significant figures in modern physics, both winning Nobel prizes for their work. This book presents the intellectual biographies of the father-and-son physicists, shedding new light on their combined understanding of the nature of electrons and, by extension, of the continuous nature of matter. It is the first text to explore J. J. Thomson’s early and later work, as well as the role he played in G. P. Thomson’s education as a physicist, and how he reacted to his son’s discovery of electron diffraction. This fresh perspective will interest academic and graduate students working in the history of early twentieth-century physics.

Jaume Navarro is Ikerbasque Research Professor at Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea. He trained in physics, philosophy and the history of science, and has an international research record, having spent several years at the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science and the University of Exeter.


A History of the Electron

J. J. and G. P. Thomson

Jaume Navarro

Ikerbasque Research Professor, Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea


CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS
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Cambridge University Press
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Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York

www.cambridge.org
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9781107005228
© J. Navarro 2012

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2012
Printed and Bound in the United Kingdom by the MPG Books Group

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data

Navarro, Jaume.
A history of the electron : J. J. and G. P. Thomson / Jaume Navarro.
pages cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-107-00522-8
1. Electrons–History. 2. Cathode rays. 3. Thomson, J. J. (Joseph John),
1856–1940. 4. Thomson, G. P. (George Paget), 1892–1975. I. Title.
QC793.5.E62N38 2012
539.7′211–dc23 2012018834

ISBN 978-1-107-00522-8 Hardback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.


To my parents, Rupert and Maria Teresa


Contents

Introduction
1
1       The early years in Manchester and Cambridge
6
1.1     Manchester
6
1.2     Science in Manchester
8
1.3     Thomson’s early days
12
1.4     Owens College
14
1.5     The Unseen Universe
18
1.6     Undergraduate in Cambridge
21
1.7     Second wrangler in the Mathematical Tripos
23
2       J. J. Thomson’s early work in Cambridge: a continuous and all-embracing physics
29
2.1     In Cambridge as a graduate
29
2.2     Early experimental work at the Cavendish
31
2.3     The origins of the electromagnetic theory of matter
33
2.4     The vortex ring theory of the atom
36
2.5     Director of the Cavendish Laboratory
41
2.6     Third edition of Maxwell’s Treatise
44
2.7     Mapping the domains of the physical sciences
46
2.8     A new tripos for engineering
51
3       The ether and the corpuscle: from waves to particles
55
3.1     Electric discharge in tubes
55
3.2     From discharge tubes to Faraday tubes
60
3.3     Tubes, electricity, and matter
67
3.4     Opening the Cavendish to new researchers
70
3.5     The corpuscle: notes from a ‘discovery’
73
3.6     Corpuscles and electrons
81
4       On creeds and policies: the corpuscular theory of matter
86
4.1     What is an atom like?
86
4.2     A world of electrons
91
4.3     Psychic research
96
4.4     The collapse of a dream
99
4.5     The carriers of positive electricity
103
4.6     Cambridge as a playground: George Paget Thomson
109
5       Father and son. Old and new physics
114
5.1     The nature of light
114
5.2     The early theory of the quantum
119
5.3     Britain and the quanta in 1913
124
5.4     A father–son collaboration
126
5.5     Physics at war
132
5.6     The electron in chemistry
137
6       The electron in Aberdeen: from particle to wave
143
6.1     Professorship in Aberdeen
143
6.2     Electron diffraction
150
6.3     The father’s interpretation
156
6.4     The son’s reaction
160
6.5     Moving to London. Electron diffraction turns into an instrument
164
6.6     End of an epoch
166
References
171
Index
183



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