British physicist, who was awarded a share in the 1927 Nobel Prize for Physics for his invention of the cloud chamber.
The son of a Scottish sheep farmer, Wilson was educated at Owens College, Manchester, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. In 1900 he was elected to a fellowship at his college and spent the rest of his professional life at Cambridge, becoming Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy (1925–34). On his retirement in 1934 Wilson returned to his native Scotland where he indulged his passion for mountain climbing until he was well into his eighties.
Before going up to Cambridge, Wilson spent a few weeks in 1894 as an observer at the Ben Nevis Observatory. It aroused in him a lifelong interest in meteorology, and one aspect of this work led Wilson to seek ways to form clouds in his laboratory by allowing moist air to expand in glass vessels. As a by-product of this work, Wilson realized that his cloud chamber could, under certain conditions, be used to show the tracks of charged atomic particles as they passed through the chamber. Wilson published his first photographs of the tracks of charged particles in 1911. The chamber thereafter became a vital tool of particle physics until it was replaced by the more efficient spark and bubble chambers of the 1950s.
Subjects: Meteorology and Climatology.