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Joseph John Thomson

Sir Joseph John Thomson was an English physicist, the discoverer of the electron.

Thomson was born in 1856 in Manchester, England, of Scottish parentage. He studied engineering at Owen's College, Manchester, and moved on to the University of Cambridge. In 1884 he became professor of experimental physics. One of his students was Ernest Rutherford, who would later succeed him in the post.

Influenced by the work of James Clerk Maxwell, and the discovery of the X-ray, he deduced the existence of "corpuscles" or electrons. His discovery was made known in 1897, and caused a sensation in scientific circles, eventually resulting in his being awarded a Nobel prize (1906). Prior to the outbreak of World War I, he made another ground-breaking discovery: the isotope. In 1918, he became Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He died in 1940 and is buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Isaac Newton.


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