Sir Joseph John Thomson, OM, FRS


1856-1940. J.J. Thomson, by Winifred NicholsonMaster; Professor of Physics; Nobel Laureate.

Thomson read Mathematics at Trinity and graduated as second wrangler, with the 2nd Smiths Prize and Adams Prize.  In 1884 he was elected Cavendish Professor of Physics. One of his students was Ernest Rutherford, who would later succeed him in the post.

In 1890 he married Rose Elisabeth Paget, daughter of Sir George Edward Paget, KCB, a physician and then Regius Professor of Physics at Cambridge. One of Thomson's greatest contributions to modern science was in his role as a highly gifted teacher, as seven of his research assistants and his son, George Paget Thomson, won Nobel Prizes in physics. His son won the Nobel Prize in 1937 for proving the wavelike properties of electrons.

He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1906, "in recognition of the great merits of his theoretical and experimental investigations on the conduction of electricity by gases." He was knighted in 1908 and appointed to the Order of Merit in 1912. In 1914 he gave the Romanes Lecture in Oxford on "The atomic theory". In 1918 he became Master of Trinity, where he remained until his death. His ashes were buried in Westminster Abbey, close to Sir Isaac Newton.

Thomson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1884 and was President of the Royal Society from 1915 to 1920.

Memorial inscription Translation


per XXXIV annos physicae professor Cavendishianus
vivida animi vi naturae portarum effregit claustra
et discipulis ex orbe terrarum confluentibus novas
scientiae vias munivit.  Natus iuxta Mancuniam
A.D.XV. kal. Ian. A.S.MDCCCLVI, in collegio quod
singulari amore per LXIV annos discipulus socius
magister foverat vir comis modestus simplex supremum
diem obiit A.D.III. kal. Sept. A.S.MDCCCCXL.

Cavendish Professor of Physics for thirty-four years, Joseph John Thomson broke open the bolts of the portals of nature with the vital power of his mind and opened up new roads of knowledge for his pupils, who came to him from all over the world.  He was born near Manchester on 18th December 1856.  A kindly, modest and simple man, as Scholar, Fellow and Master he cherished the College with unusual devotion for sixty-four years, and died here on 30th August 1940.

Joseph John Thomson

Brass located on the north wall of the Ante-Chapel.
Memorial inscription by Donald Struan Robertson.


Thomson brass






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William Hepworth Thompson


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