Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterCharles Thomson Rees Wilson, who was born on February 14, 1869 and died on November 15, 1959 was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist. In 1927 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the cloud chamber.
His early education took place in Manchester, England at Owen’s College, currently the University of Manchester. He began his studies with the intention of becoming a physician, but during his advanced studies at Cambridge he became interested in physics and chemistry.
In 1894, he became interested in coronas and “glories”(colored rings surrounding shadows cast on mist and cloud). He began trying to recreate these phenomena in the laboratory. Soon after, he began to suspect that these might be the result of condensation on nuclei; more directly, they might be the ions causing the “residual” conductivity of the atmosphere-produced continuously. His hypothesis was proven when his early cloud chamber was exposed to X-rays. The immense increase of the condensation within the chamber fit with the discovery that air was made conductive by the passage of X-rays. Later when it was firmly established that the conductivity was due to ionization of the gas, there was no longer any doubt that ions in gases could be detected, recorded and studied at any time.
In 1911, he became the first person to photograph the tracks of individual alpha and beta particles, along with those of electrons. Despite these accomplishments, the cloud chamber was not perfected until 1923, shortly after which he published two well respected papers on the tracks of electrons. Wilson’s methods were readily recreated by other scientists, thus reinforcing their validity. His cloud chamber has been used to demonstrate: the existence of Compton recoil electrons, establishing the Compton effect, the discovery of the positron, the visual demonstration of the processes of “pair creation” and “annihilation” of electrons and positrons, and the transmutation of atomic nuclei.
We have written many articles about Charles Wilson for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the positron, and here’s an article about the cloud chamber.
We’ve also recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the atom. Listen here, Episode 164: Inside the Atom.