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C. T. R. Wilson

C. T. R. WilsonAKA Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

Born: 14-Feb-1869
Birthplace: Glencorse, Midlothian, Scotland
Died: 15-Nov-1959
Location of death: Carlops, Peeblesshire, Scotland
Cause of death: Heart Failure

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: Scotland
Executive summary: Cloud chamber

Meteorological physicist Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, better known as C. T. R. Wilson, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927 for his 1895 invention of the cloud chamber. In studying cloud formation, he had sought to recreate this phenomenon in his laboratory, surmising that clouds would form if saturated air was allowed to expand and cool. To his surprise, he found that dust particles are required, to trigger the process of forming water droplets, and that firing x-rays through the dust speeds the process. He constructed a more advanced cloud chamber in 1910, proving that water droplets can be formed by charged subatomic particles traveling through supersaturated air. In 1911 he became the first scientist to observe and photograph the paths of particles through a gas, adding compelling visual evidence to support theories of atomic structure.

The Wilson cloud chamber was used for decades for studying cosmic rays, radioactivity, x-rays, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear weapons. Among other important research, Wilson cloud chambers were used to prove the reality of the Compton effect postulated by Arthur H. Compton, the discovery of the positron by Carl David Anderson, and the transmutation of atomic nuclei by John Cockcroft and Ernest T. S. Walton. The Wilson condensation cloud, which forms in the shape of smoke rings and is characteristically caused by a nuclear detonation over water, is named for Wilson.

Father: John Wilson, Jr. (shepherd, b. 23-May-1819, d. 9-Aug-1872 cancer)
Mother: Annie Clark Harper (b. 4-May-1839, d. 11-Jan-1922)
Sister: Helen Wilson (b. 19-Oct-1864)
Brother: George Harper Wilson (b. 29-Mar-1867)
Wife: Jessie Fraser Dick (b. 6-Jun-1877, m. 30-Jun-1908, d. 1967, two sons, two daughters)
Daughter: Jessie Wilson
Son: Charlie Wilson

    High School: Owen's College, University of Manchester (1888)
    University: BS, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University (1892)
    Scholar: Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University (1892-94)
    Teacher: Bradford Grammar School, Frizinghall, England (1894-95)
    Scholar: Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University (1894-1900)
    Lecturer: Cambridge University (1900-18)
    Teacher: Electrical Meteorology, Cambridge University (1918-25)
    Professor: Jacksonian Professor of Natural History, Cambridge University (1925-36)

    Royal Society 1900
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1927 (with Arthur H. Compton)
    Hughes Medal 1911
    William Hopkins Prize 1920
    RSE Gunning Prize 1921
    Royal Medal 1922
    Howard Potts Medal 1925
    Copley Medal 1935
    Lunar Crater Wilson (69.2 S, 42.4 W, 69 km. diameter)
    Scottish Ancestry


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