The electron is fundamental to almost all aspects of modern life, controlling the behavior of atoms and how they bind together to form gases, liquids, and solids. Flash of the Cathode Rays: A History of J.J. Thomson's Electron presents the compelling story of the discovery of the electron and its role as the first subatomic particle in nature. The book traces the evolution of the concept of electrical charge, from the earliest glow discharge studies to the final cathode ray and oil drop experiments of J.J. Thomson and Robert Millikan. It also provides an overview of the history of modern physics up to the advent of the old quantum theory around 1920.
Consolidating scholarly material while incorporating new material discovered by the well-respected author, the book covers the continental and English race for the source of the cathode rays, culminating in Thomson's corpuscle in 1897. It explores the events leading to Millikan's unambiguous isolation of the electron and the simultaneous circumstances surrounding the birth of Ernest Rutherford's nuclear atom and the discovery of radioactivity in 1896. The author also focuses on the controversies over N-rays, Becquerel's positive electron, and the famous Ehrenhaft-Millikan dispute over subelectrons.
Scholarly yet accessible to those with basic physics knowledge, this book should be of interest to historians of science, professional scientists and engineers, teachers and students of physics, and general readers interested in the development of modern physics.
List of illustrations. Preface. J J Thomson and his contemporaries. Electromagnetic phenomena unravelled. Cathode rays take center stage. The English get going. Meanwhile, back in Berlin. The English keep going. From Paris to the Scottish highlands. From Liverpool to Princeton. The race for e/m. The charge and the mass. Leiden, 1896. The photoelectric effect revisited. The Beta particle. Evanescent rays: A French cottage industry. Positive rays. The electronic charge revisited, and one more controversy. Dawning of the atomic age. Epilogue: The next twenty years. List of abbreviations. Notes. Bibliography. Name index. Subject index.