William Crookes

William Crookes bigraphy, stories - British chemist and physicist

William Crookes : biography

17 June 1832 – 4 April 1919

Sir William Crookes, OM, FRS (17 June 1832 – 4 April 1919) was a British chemist and physicist who attended the Royal College of Chemistry, London, and worked on spectroscopy. He was a pioneer of vacuum tubes, inventing the Crookes tube. Crookes was the inventor of the Crookes radiometer,, Improvement In Apparatus For Indicating The Intensity Of Radiation which today is made and sold as a novelty item.


Crookes made a career of being a meteorologist and lecturer at multiple places. Crookes worked in both the fields of chemistry and physics. The salient characteristic of his work was the originality of the conception of his experiments, and his skill in their execution. The breadth of his interests, ranging over pure and applied science, economic and practical problems, and psychical research, made him a well-known personality, and he received many public and academic honors. Crookes’s life was one of unbroken scientific activity.

Early years

William Crookes was born in London, the eldest son of 16. His father Joseph Crookes, is a tailor of north-country origin, living with his second wife, Mary Scott.

From 1850 to 1854 he filled the position of assistant in the college, and soon embarked upon original work, not in organic chemistry where the inspiration of his teacher, August Wilhelm von Hofmann, might have been expected to lead him, but on new compounds of selenium. These formed the subject of his first published papers in 1851. He worked at the department at the Radcliffe Observatory in Oxford in 1854, and in 1855 was appointed lecturer in chemistry at the Chester Diocesan Training College. In 1856 he married Ellen, daughter of William Humphrey, of Darlington, by whom he fathered three sons and a daughter. Married and living in London, he was devoted mainly to independent work. In 1859, he founded the Chemical News, a science magazine which he edited for many years and conducted on much less formal lines than is usual with journals of scientific societies.

Middle years

In 1861, Crookes discovered a previously unknown element with a bright green emission line in its spectrum and named the element thallium, from the Greek thallos, a green shoot. Crookes wrote a standard treatise on Select Methods in Chemical Analysis in 1871. Crookes was effective in experimentation. The method of spectral analysis, introduced by Bunsen and Kirchhoff, was received by Crookes with great enthusiasm and to great effect. His first important discovery was that of the element thallium, announced in 1861, and made with the help of spectroscopy. By this work his reputation became firmly established, and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1863.

He developed the Crookes tubes,The difference between "Crookes tubes" and "Geissler tubes" is this: In a Geissler tube the exhaustion is very much less than in a Crookes tube, the light which we see in the Geissler tube being due to the luminescence of the residual gas. (Transactions, Volume 9. Hertfordshire Natural History Society and Field Club. The Club, 1898. .) investigating cathode rays. He published numerous papers on spectroscopy and conducted research on a variety of minor subjects. In his investigations of the conduction of electricity in low pressure gases, he discovered that as the pressure was lowered, the negative electrode (cathode) appeared to emit rays (the so-called "cathode rays", now known to be a stream of free electrons, and used in cathode ray display devices). As these examples indicate, he was a pioneer in the construction and use of vacuum tubes for the study of physical phenomena.Alexander E. Outerbridge, Jr., A Fourth State of Matter. Lecture delivered before the Franklin Institute, February 17th, 1881. Journal of the Franklin Institute of the State of Pennsylvania, Volume 81. By Franklin Institute (Philadelphia, Pa.). . He was, as a consequence, one of the first scientists to investigate what are now called plasmas and identified it as the fourth state of matter in 1879.William Crookes, On Radiant Matter. Lecture delivered before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, at Sheffield, Friday, August 22, 1879. The Popular Science Monthly, Volume 16. D. Appleton, 1880. He also devised one of the first instruments for the study of nuclear radioactivity, the spinthariscope.