Career and Genealogy of Professor Charles Thomson
Rees Wilson (1868-1959) of Glencorse,
Midlothian, the, as yet, only Scottish Nobel Prize winner.
Professor Charles Thomson
Rees Wilson, CH, FRS (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.
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY ALUMINI
Ancestral data relating to
Charles' paternal Wilson line and their spouses, authenticated by Birth,
Marriage, Death and Census registration images, reveal that his roots from
the mid-1700s lay in Peebles-shire, and then in Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire
and Midlothian in the 1800s before his own birth in Glencorse, Midlothian in
1869 from his father's second marriage . After his father's death in 1872,
Charles, along with some of his siblings, and some of his step-siblings,
moved at least temporarily to Manchester with his mother Annie Clark
(Harper) Wilson, to live with, or near, her Harper parents and some of her
siblings who were still involved in shipping business enterprises. Charles'
school education was so successful in Manchester at Owens College, that he
went up to Cambridge University aged 19 years in 1888. By at least 1891,
Charles' mother was back 'living on her own means' in Penicuik, Scotland,
and Charles appears with her there, probably on Easter vacation from
Cambridge, in the 1891 Census, and then again in the 1901 Census at his
medical practitioner brother Doctor George Harper Wilson's home at Glencorse
House, Northgate, Peebles.
However, if we now go back to the 1700s, we can trace much of what led up to
the aforesaid upheavals from the deaths in 1869 and 1872 of, not only
Charles' grandfather John Wilson Snr., but also his father John Wilson Jnr.
Charles, as a mere baby at this time, would have been blissfully unaware of
these sad events.
Charles' Great Grandparents, Farmer James Wilson and his wife, Margaret
Crawford of Peebles.
Now, in the 1841 Census we
see John, b.1819, living with parents John Wilson and Margaret Finlayson et
And again in the 1851 Census
Later, that year, John Wilson
Jnr. marries Marion McLean.
John Wilson Snr. becomes a
widower in 1855.
John Wilson Jnr. becomes a
widower in 1861.
John Wilson Jnr. re-marries,
an Annie Clark Harper in 1863.
Charles Thomson Rees Wilson
is born in 1869.
John Wilson Snr. dies later
All seems back to normal in
the 1871 Census, but in fact John Wilson Jnr. is fighting a cancerous lip.
John Wilson Jnr. dies in
Piecing together the
movements of Charles' mother, siblings and step-siblings during the 1870s
starts with the information in the 1871 Census for Chorlton, Manchester
where Charles' maternal grandparents, John and Helen Harper are living in
retirement with some of their own middle-aged unmarried offspring and three
Wilson teenage children from the Wilson-McLean marriage, including eldest
son, John born in 1852.
And it is living with this
John Wilson at 155 Lloyd Street, Chorlton, Manchester in 1881, that we find
12 year old Charles, 14 year old brother George and 16 year old sister
Meantime, also in the 1881
Census, their mother, Annie (Harper) Wilson (1839-1922) and her own very
recently widowed mother Helen (Wilson) Harper (1805-1898) are seen to be
visiting a Stewart family in Riccarton, Ayr, Scotland. Annie's father,
Helen's husband John (1800-1881) had died in Chorlton in February, 1881.
Presumably both ladies had decided to have a holiday break from Manchester
to revive their spirits in the 'auld country'.
In the 1891 Census for Bank
House, Penicuik, Annie has her own three grown-up children, Helen, George
and Charles with her, plus step-son William, and step-daughter Isabella.
Then, in the 1901 Census
Annie and her three offspring are together at Glencorse House, Northgate,
Marriage of Charles Thomson
Rees Wilson to Jessie Fraser Dick
Death of Annie Clark (Harper)
Career of Charles Thomson Rees
'The Man Who Made Clouds'
By Steven Brocklehurst [December, 2012]
The only Scottish-born
physicist ever to have won the Nobel Prize for Physics, Charles Thomson Rees
Wilson, was inspired by the cloud formations he had witnessed on Ben Nevis.
He started out attempting to recreate clouds in his laboratory, but his
invention and experiments led on to massive strides in the science of
The search for the Higgs Boson at the Large Hadron Collider is the latest
stage in the hunt for answers about fundamental particles of life. However,
in the late 19th Century, very little was known about protons, neutrons and
electrons. Photons, neutrinos, muons and quarks were a long way from being
Dr Alexander Mackinnon, honorary research fellow (Physics and Astronomy) at
the University of Glasgow, says Wilson's cloud chamber, which he developed
over almost 20 years, "made things visible whose properties had only
previously been deduced indirectly. When the cloud chamber was invented
people already had a pretty rough idea of what an electron was and how it
would behave. For 40 years, the cloud chamber was the most important
instrument for studying sub-atomic particles. In a cloud chamber they could
actually see those things happening. They could check they were true and in
due course, when they discovered other sorts of particles, they could
inspect their properties visually.
Dr Mackinnon also says that
for a period of about 40 years after it was perfected in about 1911, the
cloud chamber was the most important instrument for studying sub-atomic
particles. It was superseded in the 1950s by the Bubble Chamber, which used
liquid hydrogen, and then by later technologies. However, its use coincided
with an age in which massive strides were made.
Wilson was given the Nobel Prize in 1927 "for his method of making the paths
of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapour" - but
essentially it was for his invention of the cloud chamber.
It all began back in September 1894, when the 25-year-old son of a farmer
from Glencorse, near Edinburgh, had been working at the meteorological
observatory in the Scottish Highlands. He was struck by the beauty of
"glories" - coloured rings surrounding shadows cast on mist and cloud.
Wilson's cloud chamber enabled the discovery of anti-matter particles. When
he went back to Cambridge, where he had been at university, he set to work
at the Cavendish laboratory, with the aim of making clouds. He found that if
you had air saturated with water vapour in a sealed container and suddenly
expanded the volume in which it was contained, you could get clouds to form.
His experiments coincided with the discovery of x-rays. He found that when
he fired them into his chamber, it clouded up more quickly than it did
Alan Walker, an honorary fellow of the School of Physics and Astronomy at
Edinburgh University, says, "Wilson made possible the pioneering work for
looking at the tracks of particles. A lot of particle physics discoveries in
the 1930s, 40s and 50s were done with cloud chambers. Before him there was
nothing. Nobody could actually track particles at all. We had really only
just discovered the electron, in fact. So it actually was very early days
when he was doing this.
Of course, he wasn't
particularly interested in particles, he was interested in cloud. He wanted
to make artificial cloud and then discovered this effect. Who would have
thought that sitting on the top of Ben Nevis being in wonder at the clouds
would have ended up actually laying the foundation of discovering things at
the very small level. That must have been quite something to have gone from
just being interested in clouds to ending up inventing something which was
the birth of particle physics."
Deaths of Charles and Jessie