Charles Thomson Rees Wilson was born in Glencorse, Scotland, 14 February 1869, the son of John Wilson and Annie Clerk Harper. He was educated at Greenheye's Collegiate School, Manchester; Owen's College, Manchester, 1884-8, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 1888-92. He married Jessie Fraser Dick in 1908 (died 1967), with whom he had one son and two daughters.
He was a teacher at Bradford Grammar School, 1894-5, and a researcher at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University, 1892-4 and 1895-1900, where he investigated the behaviour of ions as condensation nuclei and developed the cloud chamber. He was inspired to make his experiments on clouds by a fortnight spent working at the Observatory on Ben Nevis, 1894. He was a fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, 1900-34; and a University Demonstrator and Lecturer, 1900-18, Reader in Electrical Meteorology, 1918-25, and Jacksonian Professor of Natural Philosophy, 1925-34, Cambridge University. In 1911, using the cloud chamber he became the first person to see and photograph the tracks of individual alpha and beta particles and electrons. He also made observations of atmospheric electricity, mainly in the Peebles area of Scotland, developing several types of electrometers and a theory of thundercloud electricity.
He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics, 1927, and was made a Companion of Honour, 1956.
He retired to Edinburgh, 1936, and then Carlops, in the Pentland Hills, close to his birthplace. He died on 15 November 1959.
Papers comprising correspondence, mainly about barrage balloons and airships, 1917-40, photographs and offprints.
The papers were given to Churchill Archives Centre by Rosamund Wilson, 1967, and Jessie Wilson, 1989.
The collection is open for consultation by researchers using Churchill Archives Centre, Churchill College, Cambridge. Churchill Archives Centre is open from Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. A prior appointment and two forms of identification are required.
Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.
Please cite as Churchill Archives Centre, The Papers of C. T. R. Wilson, CTRW
Copies of the collection level description and catalogue are available at Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, and the National Register of Archives, London.
This collection level description was prepared by Sophie Bridges, August 2004. The collection has been catalogued, 1991. Biographical information was obtained from "Who's Who 1897-1996" (A and C Black), C. T. R. Wilson, "Reminiscences of my Early Years" in "Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London", volume 14 (1960), and the official website of the Nobel Foundation (Nobel e-Museum).