Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson

Wilson in 1927
Born Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
(1868-02-14)14 February 1868
Midlothian, Scotland
Died 15 November 1959(1959-11-15) (aged 90)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality Scottish
Fields Physics
Institutions Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Alma mater Owens College
Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Academic advisors J. J. Thomson
Doctoral students Cecil Frank Powell
Known for Cloud chamber
Notable awards

Charles Thomson Rees Wilson, CH, FRS[1] (14 February 1869 – 15 November 1959) was a Scottish physicist and meteorologist who received the Nobel Prize in physics for his invention of the cloud chamber.[2][3]

Education and early life

Wilson was born in the parish of Glencorse, Midlothian to a farmer, John Wilson, and his mother Annie Clerk Harper. After his father died in 1873, his family moved to Manchester. He was educated at Owens College, studying biology with the intent to become a physician. He then went to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge where he became interested in physics and chemistry.[4]


Wilson was made Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, and University Lecturer and Demonstrator in 1900.[3] He thereafter became particularly interested in meteorology, and in 1893 he began to study clouds and their properties. He worked for some time at the observatory on Ben Nevis, where he made observations of cloud formation. He then tried to reproduce this effect on a smaller scale at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, expanding humid air within a sealed container. He later experimented with the creation of cloud trails in his chamber caused by ions and radiation. For the invention of the cloud chamber he received the Nobel Prize in 1927.

Awards and honours

Wilson was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1900.[1]

The crater Wilson on the Moon is co-named for him, Alexander Wilson and Ralph Elmer Wilson. The Wilson Condensation Cloud formations, occurring after a very large explosion, are named after him. The Wilson Society, is also named for him.

The archives of Charles Thomson Rees Wilson are maintained by the Archives of the University of Glasgow.

Personal life

Wilson married Jessie Fraser in 1908, the daughter of a minister from Glasgow, and the couple had four children. He died near Edinburgh, surrounded by his family.


  1. 1 2 Blackett, P. M. S. (1960). "Charles Thomson Rees Wilson 1869–1959". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. Royal Society. 6. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1960.0037.
  2. Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, Isaac Asimov, 2nd ed., Doubleday & C., Inc., ISBN 0-385-17771-2.
  3. 1 2 Charles Thomson Rees Wilson's biography
  4. "Wilson, Charles Thomson Rees (WL888CT)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
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