Joseph John Thompson better known as JJ Thompson, was born on December 18, 1856 near Manchester, England. His father died when "JJ Thompson" was only sixteen. JJ attended Owens College in Manchester, where his professor of mathematics encouraged him to apply for a scholarship at Trinity College, one of the most important of the colleges at Cambridge University. JJ won the scholarship, and in 1880 finished second in his class (behind Joseph Larmor) in the grueling graduation test in mathematics. Trinity gave him a fellowship and he stayed on there, trying to craft mathematical models that would reveal the nature of atoms and electromagnetic forces. He also died in 1940.
In 1897 Joseph John Thompson discovered the electron in a series of experiments designed to study the nature of electric discharge in a high-vacuum cathode-ray tube—an area being investigated by numerous scientists at the time. Thomson interpreted the deflection of the rays by electrically charged plates and magnets as evidence of "bodies much smaller than atoms" that he calculated as having a very large value for the charge to mass ratio. Later he estimated the value of the charge itself. In 1904 he suggested a model of the atom as a sphere of positive matter in which electrons are positioned by electrostatic forces. His efforts to estimate the number of electrons in an atom from measurements of the scattering of light, X, beta, and gamma rays initiated the research trajectory along which his student Ernest Rutherford moved. Thomson's last important experimental program focused on determining the nature of positively charged particles. Here his techniques led to the development of the mass spectroscope, an instrument perfected by his assistant, Francis Aston, for which Aston received the Nobel Prize in 1922.
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