Clinton Davisson

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Bloomington, Illinois
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Bloomington, Illinois

Clinton Joseph Davisson was an American physicist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of electron diffraction. Born in the late nineteenth century to a contract painter father, he was forced to support himself throughout his education. He enrolled at the University of Chicago the same year he graduated from Bloomington High School. He did, however, take almost seven years to earn his bachelor’s degree. He spent the majority of his academic years as a part-time instructor at Princeton University, returning to Chicago University mainly during the summer quarters. He spent the remainder of his time privately studying with Princeton’s famous academics, particularly Professor O.W. Richardson. He completed his doctoral study with Richardson in recent years and earned his Ph.D. in three years. He began his career as an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Institute of Technology but was quickly hired by Western Electric Company, which was later renamed Bell Telephone Laboratories. He spent his most productive years here, where he carried out the famous Davisson-Germer experiment that resulted in the discovery of electron diffraction. He then became a visiting professor of research at the University of Virginia, where he remained for eight years before retiring.

Childhood and Adolescence

Clinton Joseph Davisson was born in Bloomington, Illinois, on October 22, 1881. Joseph Davisson, his father, served in the Union Army. He moved to Bloomington in 1865 and began working as a contract painter. Mary Calvert Davisson, his mother, was a teacher. Carrie was his only sibling.

Bloomington High School was where Clinton Davisson received his early education. He graduated in 1902 and received a scholarship at the University of Chicago, but had to leave after four quarters due to financial constraints.
He got a job with a telephone company in Bloomington sometime around 1903. Professor Robert A. Millikan, who had seen his potential, stepped in to help him at this critical time.

Davisson began working as an assistant in the physics department at Purdue University in January 1904 after receiving his recommendation. After that, he returned to Chicago in the fall of the same year.
For about a year, he was a resident at the University of Chicago. Then, in the fall of 1905, on the advice of Professor R. A. Millikan, Davisson accepted a position as a part-time Physics Instructor at Princeton University, which he held until 1910.

Professor Francis Magie, Professor E. P. Adams, Professor James Jeans, and Professor O.W. Richardson were among those who instantly impressed the instructors, and he studied under them whenever his duties allowed. During this time, he also had the wonderful pleasure of assisting Professor Richardson with his studies.

He again returned to the University of Chicago for the summer quarters from 1905 through 1908, completing his studies. Finally, in August 1908, he graduated with a B.Sc. from the university.
After that, he began his doctoral studies at the University of Princeton under Professor Richardson, while continuing to work as a part-time instructor until 1910. For the years 1910-1911, he was awarded a Fellowship in Physics at the same institute.

In June 1911, Clinton Joseph Davisson received his Ph.D. in Physics. On The Thermal Emission of Positive Ions From Alkaline Earth Salts was the title of his thesis.

Clinton Davisson’s Career

Davisson started working as an Assistant Professor at Carnegie Institute of Technology, a private research university in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in September 1911 and stayed there until 1917. Meanwhile, he spent the summer of 1913 in England, working with Professor J.J. Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory.

The United States Army declined his enlistment in 1917. As a result, he took the next best thing and accepted a job in the Engineering Department of the Western Electric Company in New York City during the war.
His original plan was to work there over the summer vacation. Later, during World War I, he obtained a leave of absence from the Carnegie Institute of Technology and continued his studies.

When the war ended in 1918, he resigned from Carnegie because the job required a lot of teaching and left little time for basic research. He was only able to complete one research project during his six years there.
Western Electric Company, on the other hand, gave him the opportunity to perform full-time basic research. As a result, he accepted a permanent post there as a member of the Telephone Laboratory’s Technical Staff. It was later renamed Bell Telephone Laboratories in 1925.

Davisson’s initial job at Western Electric was to manufacture vacuum tubes for military use during WWII. He began studying the emission phenomena of oxide-coated cathodes in 1919.
In 1919, he discovered by chance that a few secondary electrons from nickel bombarded with electrons have the same energy as primary electrons. They later calculated the distribution-in-angle of these secondary electrons and discovered that there are two maximums.

They then repeated the experiment, substituting other metals for nickel, but were unable to draw any theoretical conclusions from it. Later, in April 1925, a mishap in his laboratory threw his investigation into disarray.

The liquid-air container ruptured unintentionally while he was working on electron scattering, causing his target, which consisted of many tiny crystals, to become extensively oxidized. He then proceeded to clean the target by heating it for an extended period of time. After then, he noticed a shift in the secondary electrons’ distribution in angle.

He got to work on it and discovered that the little crystals in the target had grown into several huge crystals as a result of the extended heating. Davisson started bombarding single crystal targets right away.
He visited England in 1926, where he attended an Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. He learned about Louis de Broglie’s idea in detail at this meeting, and he concluded that the findings of his experiment might have anything to do with it.

When he returned to the United States, he and Lester Germer resumed work on it. Finally, in January 1927, they discovered electron beams caused by diffraction by a single nickel crystal. The findings backed up de Broglie’s theory that matter particles, such as electrons, had wave-like qualities.

He began working on electron waves in the early 1930s. Their application to crystal physics and electron microscopy piqued his curiosity. He was one of the first scientists to create analytical approaches for building devices that could focus electron beams very precisely.

He spent the previous years at Bell Telephone Laboratories, where he worked on a range of crystal physics difficulties, providing a new perspective to the field. At the same time, he assisted young scientists who had recently graduated from universities in adjusting to their new surroundings.

He left Bell Laboratories in 1946 to become a visiting professor of research at the University of Virginia, where he stayed until 1954. He taught both undergraduate and graduate students at this institution. Simultaneously, he began researching gyromagnetic ratios in ferromagnetic materials, attempting to measure them with a magnetic suspension.

His Major Projects

Davisson’s most important work was an experiment on electron diffraction. In 1927, he discovered, in collaboration with Germer, that when a stream of electrons is reflected from a metallic crystal, it exhibits diffraction patterns comparable to those of electromagnetic waves such as X-rays.

The Davisson–Germer experiment, often known as the de Broglie experiment, was essential in showing the wave-particle duality of electrons. It also aided the development of quantum mechanics and the Schrödinger equation later on.

Achievements & Awards

Davisson was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1937 for his “experimental discovery of electron diffraction by crystals.” He split the prize with George Paget Thomson, who worked on the same subject separately.

In 1928, the National Academy of Sciences gave him the Comstock Prize; in 1931, the Franklin Institute gave him the Elliott Cresson Medal; and in 1935, the Royal Society (London) gave him the Hughes Medal.

Personal History and Legacy

Clinton Davisson met Professor O.W. Richardson’s sister Charlotte while teaching at Princeton University. They married on August 4, 1911, soon before he started as an Assistant Professor at the Carnegie Institute of Technology.
Clinton Owen, James Willans, and Richard Joseph were the couple’s three sons, and Elizabeth Mary was their daughter. James and Richard went on to become research physicists, following in their father’s footsteps.

Davisson left the University of Virginia in 1954. He was now seventy-four years old and physically frail. His mind, on the other hand, was as alert as ever, and his interest in scientific topics was as strong as ever. Even at this point, he could be seen sitting for hours on end, attempting to solve various scientific problems.
Clinton Davisson died quietly in his sleep on February 1, 1958, at his home in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Estimated Net Worth

Clinton is one of the wealthiest physicists and ranks high on the list of most popular physicists. Clinton Davisson’s net worth is estimated to be at $1.5 million, based on our analysis of Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.