Sir Owen Willans Richardson was a British scientist who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1928 for his work on thermionic phenomena, particularly the discovery of the Richardson law. He was considerably advanced for his age from the start. This was supported not only by his academic achievements but also by the fact that at the age of 22, he devised a law on thermionic emission that was later named after him and won him the Nobel Prize. It’s worth noting that he completed this task within a year after receiving his B.Sc. Furthermore, as a result of his work, he became well-known in the scientific community, and at the age of 23, he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College. Later, he received his D. Sc. from University College, London, and moved to the United States of America to work as a Professor of Physics at Princeton University. He stayed there for almost eight years before returning to England after being offered a position at King’s College, University of London. He thereafter became the Wheatstone Professor of Physics at the institution, where he remained until his retirement. However, he continued to work after that and, nine years after retiring, submitted his final paper.
Childhood and Adolescence
Owen Willans Richardson was born in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, England, on April 26, 1879. Joshua Henry Richardson, his father, was an industrial tool salesman. Charlotte Maria Richardson was his mother’s name. Charlotte Sara Richardson, his sister, eventually married Clinton Davisson, one of his doctorate students.
Owen Richardson grew up in the Leeds area. Later on, the family relocated to Askern, a tiny mining town near Doncaster. He went to parish school there, and his grades revealed that he was considerably above his age.
He was accepted on a full scholarship at Batley Grammar School in Yorkshire in 1891 and graduated in 1897. He won the Entrance Major Scholarship the following year and enrolled at Trinity College, Cambridge, to study physics, chemistry, and botany.
Richardson received his B.Sc. degree in Natural Science with first-class honors in 1900, with honors in physics and chemistry. He’d met J. J. Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory by this time and was intrigued by his work on ‘cathode rays’ and subatomic electrical ‘corpuscles.’
Career of Owen Willans Richardson
Richardson was encouraged to return to Cambridge shortly after graduating in 1900. He chose to work with Thompson on the emission of energy from hot bodies after accepting the offer.
He presented two scientific articles to the Cambridge Philosophical Society in 1901. He established a law limiting electrical emission in one of them, which was read on November 25. Richardson’s Law was later named after him.
Richardson became well-known as a result of these papers, and he was elected a Fellow of Trinity College in 1902. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize for this work several years later.
In the meantime, he continued to work on the same topic. At the same time, he worked on various physical and organic chemistry projects with H. A. Wilson and H. O. Jones. He received a D.Sc. from University College London for his efforts during this time.
He left Cavendish Laboratory in 1906 to become a Professor of Physics at Princeton University in New Jersey, United States of America. He worked largely on thermionic emission, photoelectric activity, and the gyromagnetic effect here until 1914.
He worked alone at times and collaborated with others at others, improving devices and conducting tests. During this time, he also authored a number of studies. He first invented the term ‘thermionics’ in a 1909 paper published in Philosophical Magazine.
He’s also started writing his first book, ‘The Electron Theory of Matter,’ at this point. The book, which was published in 1914, is primarily made up of essays based on lectures delivered to Princeton graduate students. It was regarded as a classic textbook for students studying radio and electronics for many years.
Richardson was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1911. As a result, he began to consider obtaining American citizenship. In 1913, however, he changed his mind after obtaining an offer from King’s College, London. He was also elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in the same year.
Richardson returned to England in 1914 to take up the position of Wheatstone Professor of Physics at King’s College, University of London. He worked there until 1944 when he retired.
thermionics, photoelectric effects, magnetism, the emission of electrons by chemical action, the theory of electrons, the quantum theory, the spectrum of molecular hydrogen, soft X-rays, and the fine structure of Ha and Da were among the topics he worked on during this time.
He became involved in secret military research into telecommunication and the production of wireless telegraphy and telephony during World War I. Despite this, he was able to produce a few papers on spectroscopy, as well as works on Bohr’s atom theory and Einstein’s interpretation of the photoelectric phenomenon.
He was President of Section A (physics) of the British Association for the Advancement of Science from 1921 to 1922. He continued to teach throughout, eventually relinquishing the position in 1924.
In 1924, he was appointed as the Royal Society’s Yarrow Research Professor and King’s College’s Director for Research in Physics. He was the president of the Physical Society from 1926 to 1928.
When World War II broke out, he cut back on his other commitments and focused on military-related projects including radar, sonar, electronic test devices, and associated magnetrons and klystrons.
Richardson retired in 1944 and moved to his Hampshire country home. However, he continued to work after that, and his last publication, co-authored with E. W. Foster, was published in 1953.
Throughout his life, he mentored several research students, many of whom went on to win Nobel Prizes. A. H. Compton (1927), C. J. Davisson (1937), and Irving Langmuir were among them (1932).
Major Projects of Owen Willans Richardson
Richardson researched a variety of topics, but his work on the discharge of electricity from hot bodies is his most well-known. He empirically showed that the current from a heated wire depends exponentially on the wire’s temperature in a mathematical form close to the Arrhenius equation in 1901, when he was barely twenty-two years old.
On November 25, 1901, he revealed in a paper given to the Cambridge Philosophical Society that, “If the negative radiation is caused by corpuscles emerging from the metal, the saturation current s should follow the formula “s = AT1/2 e-b/T”. Richardson’s law was later named after him.
Achievements & Awards
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Owen Willans Richardson in 1928 “for his work on the thermionic phenomena, particularly the discovery of the law that bears his name.”
He was also awarded the Hughes Medal in 1920 and the Royal Medal in 1930.
Richardson was named a Trinity College Fellow in 1902 and an American Philosophical Society member in 1911. He also obtained honorary degrees from St. Andrews, Leeds, and London Universities.
He was appointed a Knight of the British Empire in 1939.
Personal History and Legacy
Richardson married Lilian Maud Wilson, the sister of Harold Wilson, a well-known physicist who was also a colleague at the Cavendish Laboratory, in 1906. They had two sons and a daughter together. Harold Owen
Richardson, a Nuclear Physics expert, was one of them. Lilian passed away in 1945.
Richardson married Henriette Rupp, who was also a scientist, in 1948.
Richardson died in his home in Alton, Hampshire, England, on February 15, 1959.
Richardson’s Law, which he proposed in 1901, is now known as “Richardson’s Law.”
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Owen Willans Richardson is unknown.