Jean Baptiste Perrin

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Jean Baptiste Perrin
Jean Perrin 1926.jpg
Perrin in 1926
Born(1870-09-30)30 September 1870
Lille, France
Died17 April 1942(1942-04-17) (aged 71)
New York City, USA
Nationality France
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure
University of Paris
Known forNature of cathode rays
Brownian motion
Awards Matteucci Medal (1911)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1926)
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions École Normale Supérieure
University of Paris
Jean Baptiste Perrin-signature-2.jpg

Jean Baptiste Perrin ForMemRS [1] (30 September 1870 – 17 April 1942) was a French physicist who, in his studies of the Brownian motion of minute particles suspended in liquids, verified Albert Einstein’s explanation of this phenomenon and thereby confirmed the atomic nature of matter (sedimentation equilibrium). For this achievement he was honoured with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. [2]

Brownian motion the random motion of particles suspended in a fluid resulting from their collision with the quick atoms or molecules in the gas or liquid

Brownian motion or pedesis is the random motion of particles suspended in a fluid resulting from their collision with the fast-moving molecules in the fluid.

Albert Einstein German-born physicist and developer of the theory of relativity

Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics. His work is also known for its influence on the philosophy of science. He is best known to the general public for his mass–energy equivalence formula E = mc2, which has been dubbed "the world's most famous equation". He received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics "for his services to theoretical physics, and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect", a pivotal step in the development of quantum theory.

Matter substance that has rest mass and volume, or several other definitions

In classical physics and general chemistry, matter is any substance that has mass and takes up space by having volume. All everyday objects that can be touched are ultimately composed of atoms, which are made up of interacting subatomic particles, and in everyday as well as scientific usage, "matter" generally includes atoms and anything made up of them, and any particles that act as if they have both rest mass and volume. However it does not include massless particles such as photons, or other energy phenomena or waves such as light or sound. Matter exists in various states. These include classical everyday phases such as solid, liquid, and gas – for example water exists as ice, liquid water, and gaseous steam – but other states are possible, including plasma, Bose–Einstein condensates, fermionic condensates, and quark–gluon plasma.



Early years

Born in Lille, France, Perrin attended the École Normale Supérieure, the elite grande école in Paris. He became an assistant at the school during the period of 1894–97 when he began the study of cathode rays and X-rays. He was awarded the degree of docteur ès sciences (PhD) in 1897. In the same year he was appointed as a lecturer in physical chemistry at the Sorbonne, Paris. He became a professor at the University in 1910, holding this post until the German occupation of France during World War II.

Lille Prefecture and commune in Hauts-de-France, France

Lille is a city at the northern tip of France, in French Flanders. On the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium, it is the capital of the Hauts-de-France region, the prefecture of the Nord department, and the main city of the European Metropolis of Lille.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

The Grandes Écoles of France are higher education establishments that are outside the main framework of the French public university system. The Grandes Écoles are highly selective, elite, and prestigious institutions; their graduates have dominated upper levels of the private and public sectors of French society for decades.

Research and achievements

Jean Perrin in 1908 Jean Perrin 1908.jpg
Jean Perrin in 1908

In 1895, Perrin showed that cathode rays were of negative electric charge in nature. He determined Avogadro's number (now known as the Avogadro constant) by several methods. He explained solar energy as due to the thermonuclear reactions of hydrogen.

Avogadro constant fundamental physical constant (symbols: L,Nᴀ) representing the molar number of entities

The Avogadro constant, named after scientist Amedeo Avogadro, is the number of constituent particles, usually molecules, atoms or ions that are contained in the amount of substance given by one mole. It is the proportionality factor that relates the molar mass of a substance to the mass of a sample, is designated with the symbol NA or L, and has the value 6.022140857(74)×1023 mol−1 in the International System of Units (SI).

Solar energy energy transmitted from the sun

Solar energy is radiant light and heat from the Sun that is harnessed using a range of ever-evolving technologies such as solar heating, photovoltaics, solar thermal energy, solar architecture, molten salt power plants and artificial photosynthesis.

Hydrogen Chemical element with atomic number 1

Hydrogen is a chemical element with symbol H and atomic number 1. With a standard atomic weight of 1.008, hydrogen is the lightest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the Universe, constituting roughly 75% of all baryonic mass. Non-remnant stars are mainly composed of hydrogen in the plasma state. The most common isotope of hydrogen, termed protium, has one proton and no neutrons.

After Albert Einstein published (1905) his theoretical explanation of Brownian motion in terms of atoms, Perrin did the experimental work to test and verify Einstein's predictions, thereby settling the century-long dispute about John Dalton's atomic theory. Carl Benedicks argued Perrin should receive the Nobel Prize in Physics; Perrin received the award in 1926 for this and other work on the discontinuous structure of matter, which put a definite end to the long struggle regarding the question of the physical reality of molecules. [3]

Atom smallest unit of a chemical element

An atom is the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter that has the properties of a chemical element. Every solid, liquid, gas, and plasma is composed of neutral or ionized atoms. Atoms are extremely small; typical sizes are around 100 picometers.

John Dalton English chemist, meteorologist and physicist

John Dalton FRS was an English chemist, physicist, and meteorologist. He is best known for introducing the atomic theory into chemistry, and for his research into colour blindness, sometimes referred to as Daltonism in his honour.

Atomic theory

In chemistry and physics, atomic theory is a scientific theory of the nature of matter, which states that matter is composed of discrete units called atoms. It began as a philosophical concept in ancient Greece and entered the scientific mainstream in the early 19th century when discoveries in the field of chemistry showed that matter did indeed behave as if it were made up of atoms.

Perrin was the author of a number of books and dissertations. Most notable of his publications were: "Rayons cathodiques et rayons X" ; "Les Principes"; "Electrisation de contact"; "Réalité moléculaire"; "Matière et Lumière"; "Lumière et Reaction chimique".

Perrin was also the recipient of numerous prestigious awards including the Joule Prize of the Royal Society in 1896 and the La Caze Prize of the French Academy of Sciences. He was twice appointed a member of the Solvay Committee at Brussels in 1911 and in 1921. He also held memberships with the Royal Society of London and with the Academies of Sciences of Belgium, Sweden, Turin, Prague, Romania and China. He became a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1926 and was made Commander of the Order of Léopold (Belgium).

French Academy of Sciences learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research

The French Academy of Sciences is a learned society, founded in 1666 by Louis XIV at the suggestion of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, to encourage and protect the spirit of French scientific research. It was at the forefront of scientific developments in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, and is one of the earliest Academies of Sciences.

Solvay Conference academic conference

The International Solvay Institutes for Physics and Chemistry, located in Brussels, were founded by the Belgian industrialist Ernest Solvay in 1912, following the historic invitation-only 1911 Conseil Solvay, considered a turning point in the world of physics. The Institutes coordinate conferences, workshops, seminars, and colloquia.

Royal Society English learned society for science

The President, Council and Fellows of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, commonly known as the Royal Society, is a learned society. Founded on 28 November 1660, it was granted a royal charter by King Charles II as "The Royal Society". It is the oldest national scientific institution in the world. The society is the United Kingdom's and Commonwealth of Nations' Academy of Sciences and fulfils a number of roles: promoting science and its benefits, recognising excellence in science, supporting outstanding science, providing scientific advice for policy, fostering international and global co-operation, education and public engagement.

In 1919, Perrin proposed that nuclear reactions can provide the source of energy in stars. He realized that the mass of a helium atom is less than that of four atoms of hydrogen, and that the mass-energy equivalence of Einstein implies that the nuclear fusion (4 H → He) could liberate sufficient energy to make stars shine for billions of years. [4] A similar theory was first proposed by American chemist William Draper Harkins in 1915. [5] [6] It remained for Hans Bethe and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker to determine the detailed mechanism of stellar nucleosynthesis during the 1930s. [7]

Nuclear reaction process in which two nuclei collide to produce one or more nuclides

In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce one or more nuclides that are different from the nuclide(s) that began the process. Thus, a nuclear reaction must cause a transformation of at least one nuclide to another. If a nucleus interacts with another nucleus or particle and they then separate without changing the nature of any nuclide, the process is simply referred to as a type of nuclear scattering, rather than a nuclear reaction.

William Draper Harkins U.S. chemist

William Draper Harkins was a U.S. chemist, notably for his contributions to nuclear chemistry. Harkins researched the structure of the atomic nucleus and was the first to propose the principle of nuclear fusion, four years before Jean Baptiste Perrin published his theory in 1919-20. His findings enabled, among other things, the development of the H-bomb.

Hans Bethe German-American nuclear physicist

Hans Albrecht Bethe was a German-American nuclear physicist who made important contributions to astrophysics, quantum electrodynamics and solid-state physics, and won the 1967 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on the theory of stellar nucleosynthesis.

In 1927, he founded the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique together with chemist André Job and physiologist André Mayer. Funding was provided by Edmond James de Rothschild. [8] In 1937, Perrin established the Palais de la Découverte, a science museum in Paris.

Perrin is considered the founding father of the National Centre for Scientific Research (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)). Following a petition by Perrin signed by over 80 scientists, among them eight Nobel Prize laureates, the French education minister set up the Conseil Supérieur de la Recherche Scientifique (French National Research Council) in April 1933. In 1936, Perrin, now an undersecretary for research, founded the Service Central de la Recherche Scientifique (French Central Agency for Scientific Research). [8] Both institutions were merged under the CNRS umbrella on October 19, 1939. [9]

His notable students include Pierre Victor Auger. Jean Perrin was the father of Francis Perrin, also a physicist.

Personal life

Perrin was an atheist and a socialist. [10] He was an officer in the engineer corps during World War I. When the Germans invaded France in 1940, he escaped to the U.S.A., together with his partner Nine Choucroun. He died in New York City. After the War, in 1948, his remains were transported back to France by the cruiser Jeanne d'Arc and buried in the Panthéon.


  • Les Principes. Exposé de thermodynamique (1901)/Principles of thermodynamics
  • Traité de chimie physique. Les principes (1903)/Physical chemistry principles
  • Les Preuves de la réalité moléculaire (1911)/Evidences of molecular reality
  • Les Atomes (1913)/The Atoms
  • Matière et lumière (1919)/Matter and light
  • En l'honneur de Madame Pierre Curie et de la découverte du Radium (1922)/ In honor of Mrs Pierre Curie and the discovery of Radium
  • Les Éléments de la physique (1929)/Elements of physics
  • L'Orientation actuelle des sciences (1930)/Current orientation of sciences
  • Les Formes chimiques de transition (1931)/Transition chemical forms
  • La Recherche scientifique (1933)/Scientific research
  • Cours de chimie. 1ère partie. Chimie générale et métalloïdes (1935)/ Chemistry courses: general chemistry and metalloids
  • Grains de matière et grains de lumière (1935)/Grains of matter and grains of light
    • Existence des grains/Existence of grains
    • Structure des atomes/Structure of atoms
    • Noyaux des atomes/Kernels of atoms
    • Transmutations provoquées/Induced transmutations
  • Paul Painlevé: l'homme (1936)/Paul Painlevé: the man
  • L'Organisation de la recherche scientifique en France (1938)/The organisation of scientific research in France
  • À la surface des choses (1940-1941)/At the surface of things
    • Masse et gravitation (1940)/Mass and gravitation
    • Lumière (1940)/Light
    • Espace et temps (1940)/Space and time
    • Forces et travail (1940)/Forces and work
    • Relativité (1941)/Relativity
    • Électricité (1941)/Electricity
    • L'énergie (1941)/Energy
    • Évolution (1941)/Evolution
  • L'Âme de la France éternelle (1942)/The soul of eternal France
  • Pour la Libération (1942)/For Liberation
  • La Science et l'Espérance (1948)/Science and hope
  • Oeuvres scientifiques de Jean Perrin (1950)/Scientific works of Jean Perrin

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  2. Kyle, R. A. (1979). "Jean Baptiste Perrin". JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association. 242 (8): 744. doi:10.1001/jama.242.8.744.
  3. Mauro Dardo (2004). Nobel Laureates and Twentieth-Century Physics. Cambridge University Press. pp. 114–116. ISBN   0521540089 . Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  4. Why the Stars Shine D.Selle, Guidestar (Houston Astronomical Society), October 2012, p.6-8
  5. N.C.Panda (1991). Māyā in Physics. Motilal Banarsidess (Delhi). p. 173. ISBN   81-208-0698-0.
  6. Robert S. Mulliken (1975). "William Draper Harkins 1873 - 1951" (PDF). Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences. 47: 48–81.
  7. John North, Cosmos: An Illustrated History of Astronomy and Cosmology (University of Chicago Press, p.545)
  8. 1 2 Zeitoun, Charline (September 2009). "Le CNRS a 70 ans". CNRS le journal. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  9. Guthleben, Denis (November 3, 2010). "Un peu d'histoire... La création du CNRS". Comité pour l’histoire du CNRS . Retrieved February 23, 2012.
  10. Bernard Valeur, Jean-Claude Brochon (2001). New Trends in Fluorescence Spectroscopy: Applications to Chemical and Life Sciences. Springer. p. 17. ISBN   978-3-540-67779-6. Jean and Francis Perrin held similar political and philosophical ideas. Both were socialists and atheists.