The Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge is thought to be one of the greatest scientific sites in the world, ever since its establishment in 1870. Throughout the decades it has been home to a number of incredibly ground-breaking discoveries in many different fields of science.
The laboratory has an extraordinary history of innovation and discovery, including the discovery of the electron as well as the structure of DNA. Here are a few of the most amazing things that have been discovered or produced by the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge over the years:
The Discovery of the Electron
Joseph John Thomson, born in Manchester in 1856, came to Cambridge to study mathematics and became the professor of Physics and the Head of the Cavendish Laboratory in 1884 at age 27. He went on to discover the electron in 1897. Many scientists had already used this term hypothetically as a way of describing a small unit of electricity. Thomson made a scientific breakthrough when he discovered that negative particles existed, which were smaller than an atom. This was a major innovation at the time, as many scientists were not even sure about the existence of atoms.
This amazing discovery led to the understanding of the internal structure of the atom and it won Thomson the Nobel Prize for physics in 1906. He is thought to be one of the most influential scientists of the 20th century.
Splitting the Atom
After discovering the electron, Thomson established a research school at the Cavendish Laboratory, which fostered a number of truly impressive students who went on to become very influential scientists. One of them was Ernest Rutherford, who became one of the most famous scientists to have worked in Britain. He is most well-known for the achievement of “splitting the atom”.
Rutherford was originally from New Zealand and came to England on a scholarship, working under the guidance of J. J. Thomson. At the time, Thomson had the theory that electrons were embedded within the atom in a sphere of positive charge. Rutherford disproved this theory in 1913 and found out that the atom was made from a nucleus with a positive charge with the electrons orbiting around it. He discovered that on close examination, an atom looks like a mini-solar system.
As Rutherford was working on these ideas, he conducted his most well-known experiment which was to split an atom. He achieved this by firing alpha-particles into the atom, which caused one part of the nucleus to break away. He then theorized that the positive charge within the nucleus of the atom was made up of units. Rutherford’s theory provided proof for the idea that Albert Einstein had already developed about matter converting into energy.
The Structure of DNA
Another incredible discovery, which was made at the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, is when Scientists James Dewey Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA and began to understand how it transferred information in living material.
This discovery took place back in 1953 as the two scientists observed DNA and saw that it had a double helix structure, which is now thought to be one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century. Watson and Crick received a Nobel Prize in 1962 for their further research in the field of DNA and the structure of nucleic acids.
The Cavendish Laboratory is home to Plastic Logic, a company founded in 2000 which is dedicated to research in plastic electronics. This is a branch of technology which uses conductive polymers and conductive small molecules rather than the conventional inorganic conductors such as silicon and copper. This technology is still relatively new, but it has many possibilities for the future.
This flexible, lightweight and easy to manufacture technology has endless potential for use in a huge range of products including smart phones, billboards, watches, e-readers and much more.
These are just a few of the amazing innovations which have taken place at the Cavendish Laboratory over the years. The Laboratory has a long history of discovery and is at the forefront of science to this very day.
Mark McGraph is a very dedicated writer who mainly writes about technology and anything related to that. If he is not writing, he likes to spend time in the gym.