Papers of C.T.R. Wilson

Scope and Content

Personal papers of C.T.R. Wilson, principally working papers relating to his work on the cloud chamber and atmospheric physics, c 1890 - 1959. The collection includes original cloud chamber photographs taken by C.T.R. Wilson, slides, notebooks, and drafts, together with some biographical material, off-prints and journals.

Administrative / Biographical History

Charles Thomas Rees Wilson is the only Scot to have won a Nobel Prize in Physics. Awarded for his work on the Wilson cloud chamber, which made the paths of electrically charged particles visible by condensation of vapour, he shared the 1927 prize with Arthur Holly Compton (1892 - 1962), the American physicist who discovered Compton recoil electrons, and used Wilson's chamber to prove the existence of the Compton effect. In 1924 he was awarded an honorary LL D from the University of Aberdeen, and during his lifetime received many other honours from the professional, scientific and academic bodies with which he was involved, including fellowship of the Royal Society in 1900.

He was born in Glencorse parish, near Edinburgh on 14 Feb 1869, but after the death of his father, c 1873, the family moved to Manchester, where he was educated at a private school in the city, and at Owen's College (now the University of Manchester). He gained an entrance scholarship to Cambridge in 1888 and graduated from Sidney Sussex College in 1892. He had begun studying biology, but during his time at Cambridge, possibly influenced by his early contact with C. Balfour Stewart at Owen's College, Manchester, had become interested in the physical sciences. In 1895 he was appointed James Clerk Maxwell Scholar at the Cavendish Laboratory, and in this year published his first work on the cloud chamber. During the following three years he continued to develop his work on the behaviour of ions as condensation nuclei, and the following year was appointed by the Meteorological Council to conduct research on atmospheric electricity. His research output was reduced from 1900 - 1918, when he was made Fellow of Sydney Sussex College, and appointed University lecturer and demonstrator, but by 1923 the cloud chamber was largely perfected and he published his 2 landmark, fully illustrated papers on the tracks of electrons. The technique devised by Wilson was adopted with great success, and developed further by scientists working in Britain and elsewhere, including Blackett and Kapitsa, in Cambridge; Irene Curie and Auger, in Paris; Bothe, Meitner and Phillipp, in Berlin; Skolbezyn, in Leningrad; and Kikuchi, in Tokyo. He remained at Sydney Sussex College for the rest of his working life, where he was appointed reader in Electrical Meteorology in 1918, and Jacksonian Professor of Natural History in 1925. After his retirement, he returned to Scotland, where he died at Carlops, Glencorse on 15 Nov 1959.


None observed - listing in process

Access Information

Open, subject to signature accepting conditions of use at reader registration sheet

Acquisition Information

Deposited in the University in Apr 1995, by C.T.R. Wilson's daughter, Miss Jessie Wilson.

Other Finding Aids

Very brief collection level description available on Aberdeen University Library Catalogue, accessible online

Alternative Form Available

No copies known

Conditions Governing Use

Subject to the condition of the original, copies may be supplied for private research use only on receipt of a signed undertaking to comply with current copyright legislation.

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Head of Special Libraries and Archives (e-mail: and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. Where possible, assistance will be given in identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Appraisal Information

This material has been appraised in line with normal procedures

Custodial History

The papers remained in C.T.R. Wilson's house in Carlops from his death in 1959 until their deposit in the University in 1995.


No accruals expected

Related Material

Records of the Blafour Stewart Auroral Laboratory, Edinburgh, 1931 ongoing (GB 231 MS 3152). C. Balfour Stewart, after whom the Laboratory was named, taught C.T.R. Wilson at Owen's College, Manchester, and both had a life-long involvement with meteorology.

Papers of James Paton, meteorologist, 1920s - 1970s (GB 231 MS 3188). James Paton, a notable Scottish meteorologist and friend of C.T.R. Wilson, was Head of the Department of Meteorology at Edinburgh University from 1964 - 1973, and the Balfour Stewart Auroral Laboratory based there from 1965 - 1974. This collection, which contains field notebooks of C.T.R. Wilson dating from the 1920s, is largely unlisted but will be made available to bona fide researchers.


No known publications using this material

Additional Information

This material is original