British physicist who demonstrated the wave-particle nature of elementary particles. He received the 1937 Nobel Prize for Physics and was knighted in 1943.
The son of J. J. Thomson, Thomson was educated at Cambridge, where he later taught (1914–22). In 1922 he was appointed to the chair of physics at Aberdeen, and in 1930 accepted a similar post at Imperial College, London. In 1952 Thomson returned to Cambridge as master of Corpus Christi, a post he held until his retirement in 1962.
In 1927, in collaboration with Alexander Reid, Thomson passed a beam of electrons through a thin metal foil in a vacuum. A photographic plate behind the metal foil revealed a clear diffraction pattern. This could mean only that the electrons had passed through the metal foil as waves. Thomson's work thus confirmed the suggestion made by de Broglie in 1923. Thomson worked on nuclear physics in the 1930s and after Chadwick's discovery of the neutron in 1932, he began to explore some of its properties. Consequently, at the outbreak of World War II Thomson was ideally suited to head the Maud Committee set up to advise the British government on the feasibility of constructing an atomic bomb. The committee advised that a device using uranium-235 could be built. The project was transferred to the USA and Thomson spent the latter part of the war as adviser to the Air Ministry.
Subjects: Science and Mathematics — Contemporary History (Post 1945).