# Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

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Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
Wilson in 1927
Born
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

14 February 1869
Glencorse, Scotland
Died15 November 1959 (aged 90)
Carlops, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Alma mater Owens College
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Known for Cloud chamber
Atmospheric electricity
Awards
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Doctoral students Cecil Frank Powell
Philip Dee

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, CH, FRS [1] (14 February 1869 – 15 November 1959) was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his invention of the cloud chamber. [2] [3]

## Education and early life

Wilson was born in the parish of Glencorse, Midlothian to Annie Clark Harper and John Wilson, a sheep farmer. After his father died in 1873, he moved with his family to Manchester. With financial support from his step-brother he studied biology at Owens College, now the University of Manchester, with the intent of becoming a doctor. In 1887, he graduated from the College with a BSc. He won a scholarship to attend Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he became interested in physics and chemistry. In 1892 he received 1st class honours in both parts of the Natural Science Tripos. [4] [5] [6]

## Career

He became particularly interested in meteorology, and in 1893 he began to study clouds and their properties. Beginning in 1894, he worked for some time at the observatory on Ben Nevis, [7] where he made observations of cloud formation. He was particularly fascinated by the appearance of glories. [8] He then tried to reproduce this effect on a smaller scale at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, expanding humid air within a sealed container. He later experimented with the creation of cloud trails in his chamber by condensation onto ions generated by radioactivity. Several of his cloud chambers survive. [9]

Wilson was made Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, and University Lecturer and Demonstrator in 1900. [3] He was known by some as a poor lecturer, due to a pronounced stutter. [10]

## Contributions

The invention of the cloud chamber was by far Wilson's signature accomplishment, earning him the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1927. [6] The Cavendish laboratory praised him for the creation of "a novel and striking method of investigating the properties of ionized gases". [11] The cloud chamber allowed huge experimental leaps forward in the study of subatomic particles and the field of particle physics, generally. Some have credited Wilson with making the study of particles possible at all. [8]

Wilson published numerous papers on meteorology and physics, on topics including X-rays, [12] ionization, [13] thundercloud formation, [14] and other meteorological events. [8] Wilson may also have observed a sprite in 1924, 65 years before their official discovery. [15] Weather was a focus of Wilson's work throughout his career, from his early observations at Ben Nevis to his final paper, on thunderclouds. [16] [14]

## Method

Retrospectively, Wilson's experimental method has received some attention from scholars.

In a period of scientific inquiry characterized by a divide between "analytical" and "morphological" scientists, Wilson's method of inquiry represented a hybrid. While some scientists believed phenomena should be observed in pure nature, others proposed laboratory-controlled experiments as the premier method for inquiry. Wilson used a combination of methods in his experiments and investigations. [17] Wilson's work "made things visible whose properties had only previously been deduced indirectly". [8]

He has been called "almost the last of the great individual experimenters in physics". [10] He used his cloud chamber in various ways to demonstrate the operating principles of things like subatomic particles and X-rays. [12] [13] But his primary interest, and the subject of the bulk of his papers, was meteorology. [17]

## Awards, honours and legacy

Wilson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1900. [1]

For the invention of the cloud chamber he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927, becoming the only Scottish-born person to do so. [8] [6] He shared this prize with the American physicist Arthur Compton, rewarded for his work on the particle nature of radiation. [16] Despite Wilson's great contribution to particle physics, he remained interested in atmospheric physics, specifically atmospheric electricity, for his entire career. [18] [19] For example, his last research paper, published in 1956 when he was in his late eighties (at that time he was the oldest FRS to publish a paper in the Royal Society's journals), was on atmospheric electricity. [14]

The Wilson crater on the Moon is named for him, Alexander Wilson and Ralph Elmer Wilson. [20] The Wilson Condensation Cloud formations that occur after large explosions, such as nuclear detonations, are named after him. [21] The Wilson Society, the scientific society of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge is named for him, [22] as is the CTR Wilson Institute for Atmospheric Electricity, the Atmospheric Electricity Special Interest Group of the Royal Meteorological Society.

The archives of C.T.R Wilson are maintained by the Archives of the University of Glasgow. [23]

In 2012, the Royal Society of Edinburgh held a meeting in honor of Wilson, the "Great Scottish Physicist". [19]

## Personal life

In 1908, Wilson married Jessie Fraser, the daughter of a minister from Glasgow. The couple had four children. His family knew him as patient and curious, and fond of taking walks in the hills near his home. [15] He died at his home in Carlops on 15 November 1959, surrounded by his family. [4]

## Related Research Articles

The positron or antielectron is the antiparticle or the antimatter counterpart of the electron. The positron has an electric charge of +1 e, a spin of 1/2, and has the same mass as an electron. When a positron collides with an electron, annihilation occurs. If this collision occurs at low energies, it results in the production of two or more gamma ray photons.

Sir Joseph John Thomson was an English physicist and Nobel Laureate in Physics, credited with the discovery and identification of the electron, the first subatomic particle to be discovered.

The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the School of Physical Sciences. The laboratory was opened in 1874 on the New Museums Site as a laboratory for experimental physics and is named after the British chemist and physicist Henry Cavendish. The laboratory has had a huge influence on research in the disciplines of physics and biology.

Sir John Edward Lennard-Jones KBE, FRS was a British mathematician who was a professor of theoretical physics at University of Bristol, and then of theoretical science at the University of Cambridge. He may be regarded as the initiator of modern computational chemistry.

Patrick Maynard Stuart Blackett, Baron Blackett was a British experimental physicist known for his work on cloud chambers, cosmic rays, and paleomagnetism, winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948. In 1925 he became the first person to prove that radioactivity could cause the nuclear transmutation of one chemical element to another. He also made a major contribution in World War II advising on military strategy and developing operational research. His left-wing views saw an outlet in third world development and in influencing policy in the Labour Government of the 1960s.

Cecil Frank Powell, FRS was an English physicist, and Nobel Prize in Physics laureate for his development of the photographic method of studying nuclear processes and for the resulting discovery of the pion (pi-meson), a subatomic particle.

A cloud chamber, also known as a Wilson cloud chamber, is a particle detector used for visualizing the passage of ionizing radiation.

Sir Owen Willans Richardson, FRS was a British physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1928 for his work on thermionic emission, which led to Richardson's law.

Bruno Benedetto Rossi was an Italian experimental physicist. He made major contributions to particle physics and the study of cosmic rays. A 1927 graduate of the University of Bologna, he became interested in cosmic rays. To study them, he invented an improved electronic coincidence circuit, and travelled to Eritrea to conduct experiments that showed that cosmic ray intensity from the West was significantly larger than that from the East.

Sir George Paget Thomson, FRS was an English physicist and Nobel laureate in physics recognised for his discovery of the wave properties of the electron by electron diffraction.

Francis William Aston FRS was an English chemist and physicist who won the 1922 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery, by means of his mass spectrograph, of isotopes in many non-radioactive elements and for his enunciation of the whole number rule. He was a fellow of the Royal Society and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

The Davisson–Germer experiment was a 1923-27 experiment by Clinton Davisson and Lester Germer at Western Electric, in which electrons, scattered by the surface of a crystal of nickel metal, displayed a diffraction pattern. This confirmed the hypothesis, advanced by Louis de Broglie in 1924, of wave-particle duality, and was an experimental milestone in the creation of quantum mechanics.

Sir Thomas Walter Bannerman Kibble,, was a British theoretical physicist, senior research investigator at the Blackett Laboratory and Emeritus Professor of Theoretical Physics at Imperial College London. His research interests were in quantum field theory, especially the interface between high-energy particle physics and cosmology. He is best known as one of the first to describe the Higgs mechanism, and for his research on topological defects. From the 1950s he was concerned about the nuclear arms race and from 1970 took leading roles in promoting the social responsibility of the scientist.

Atmospheric electricity is the study of electrical charges in the Earth's atmosphere. The movement of charge between the Earth's surface, the atmosphere, and the ionosphere is known as the global atmospheric electrical circuit. Atmospheric electricity is an interdisciplinary topic with a long history, involving concepts from electrostatics, atmospheric physics, meteorology and Earth science.

Norman Feather FRS FRSE PRSE, was an English nuclear physicist. Feather and Egon Bretscher were working at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge in 1940, when they proposed that the 239 isotope of element 94 (plutonium) would be better able to sustain a nuclear chain reaction. This research, a breakthrough, was part of the Tube Alloys project, the secret British project during World War II to develop nuclear weapons.

Debendra Mohan Bose was an Indian physicist who made well-known contributions in the field of cosmic rays, artificial radioactivity and neutron physics. He was the longest serving Director (1938–1967) of Bose Institute. Prior to that, he succeeded Sir C. V. Raman as the Palit Professor of Physics at University of Calcutta in 1932. He served as the President of the Indian Science News Association, and was the editor of its journal Science and Culture for about 25 years. He also served as the treasurer of the Visva-Bharati University.

Sir John Turton Randall, was an English physicist and biophysicist, credited with radical improvement of the cavity magnetron, an essential component of centimetric wavelength radar, which was one of the keys to the Allied victory in the Second World War. It is also the key component of microwave ovens.

Giles Harrison is Professor of Atmospheric Physics at the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, where he has served twice as Head of Department. His research work continues over 250 years of UK studies in atmospheric electricity, in its modern form an interdisciplinary topic at the intersection of aerosol and cloud physics, solar-climate and internal climate interactions, scientific sensor development and the retrieval of quantitative data from historical sources.

Michael John Rycroft is an ionospheric physicist.

Dorje C. Brody is a British applied mathematician and mathematical physicist.

## References

1. Blackett, P. M. S. (1960). "Charles Thomson Rees Wilson 1869–1959". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 6: 269–295. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1960.0037.
2. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Isaac Asimov, 2nd ed., Doubleday & C., Inc., ISBN   0-385-17771-2.
3. Longair, Malcolm S. (2006). "Wilson, Charles Thomson Rees (1869–1959)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/36950 . Retrieved 28 January 2017.
4. "Wilson, Charles Thomson Rees (WL888CT)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
5. "C.T.R. Wilson - Biographical". Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
6. Williams, Earle R. (1 August 2010). "Origin and context of C. T. R. Wilson's ideas on electron runaway in thunderclouds". Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics. 115 (A8): A00E50. Bibcode:2010JGRA..115.0E50W. doi:10.1029/2009JA014581. ISSN   2156-2202.
7. Brocklehurst, Steven (7 December 2012). "Charles Thomson Rees Wilson: The man who made clouds". BBC News. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
8. Phillipson, Tacye (December 2016). "Surviving Apparatus Showing the Early Development of the Cloud Chamber". Bulletin of the Scientific Instrument Society.
9. Halliday, E.C. (1970). "Some Memories of Prof. C.T.R. Wilson, English Pioneer in work on Thunderstorms and Lightning". Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 51 (12): 1133–1135. Bibcode:1970BAMS...51.1133H. doi:10.1175/1520-0477(1970)051<1133:smopct>2.0.co;2.
10. A history of the Cavendish laboratory 1871-1910.With 3 portraits in a collotype and 8 other illustrations. London. 1910. hdl:2027/coo1.ark:/13960/t0ns19f2h.
11. Wilson, C. T. R. (1 August 1923). "Investigations on X-Rays and $\beta$-Rays by the Cloud Method. Part I. X-Rays". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 104 (724): 1–24. Bibcode:1923RSPSA.104....1W. doi:10.1098/rspa.1923.0090. ISSN   1364-5021.
12. Wilson, C. T. R. (9 June 1911). "On a Method of Making Visible the Paths of Ionising Particles through a Gas". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 85 (578): 285–288. Bibcode:1911RSPSA..85..285W. doi:10.1098/rspa.1911.0041. ISSN   1364-5021.
13. Wilson, C. T. R. (2 August 1956). "A Theory of Thundercloud Electricity". Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences. 236 (1206): 297–317. Bibcode:1956RSPSA.236..297W. doi:10.1098/rspa.1956.0137. ISSN   1364-5021.
14. Bowler, Sue (7 December 2012). "C T R Wilson, a Great Scottish Physicist: His Life, Work and Legacy" (PDF).
15. "C. T. R. Wilson". Physics Today. 2017. doi:10.1063/pt.5.031417.
16. Gooding, David; Pinch, Trevor; Schaffer, Simon (18 May 1989). The Uses of Experiment: Studies in the Natural Sciences. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   9780521337687.
17. Harrison, Giles (1 October 2011). "The cloud chamber and CTR Wilson's legacy to atmospheric science" (PDF). Weather. 66 (10): 276–279. Bibcode:2011Wthr...66..276H. doi:10.1002/wea.830. ISSN   1477-8696.
18. Aplin, Karen L. (1 April 2013). "CTR Wilson – Honouring a Great Scottish Physicist". Weather. 68 (4): 96. Bibcode:2013Wthr...68...96A. doi:10.1002/wea.2095. ISSN   1477-8696.
19. "Planetary Names: Crater, craters: Wilson on Moon". planetarynames.wr.usgs.gov. Retrieved 28 January 2017.
20. Glasstone, Samuel; Dolan, Philip J., eds. (1977). The effects of nuclear weapons (3rd ed.). Washington: U.S. Department of Defense. p. 45. hdl:2027/uc1.31822004829784.
21. "About | Wilson Society". www.srcf.ucam.org. Retrieved 28 January 2017.