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Rayleigh, John William Strutt, Baron

physics radiation led densities

[ray lee] (1842–1919) British physicist: did classic work on sound, light and electricity.

Rayleigh had high ability as a mathematician, which he found useful in the unusually wide range of problems in physics which attracted him, and he was a skilful experimenter. When his father died in 1873 Rayleigh inherited the title, and continued to work in his laboratory in the family mansion, Terling Place, in Essex. He agreed to succeed in Cambridge, but only for 5 years; in that time his physics students increased in number from six to 70. His first researches were on waves, both in optics and in acoustics; his book The Theory of Sound , written in part in a houseboat on the Nile, is a masterpiece of classical physics. His enthusiasm for precise measurement led him, in Cambridge, to work on the standardization of the ohm and ampere. Interest in hypothesis caused his work on gas densities and led to the discovery of argon. His interest in radiation and spectra led him to study black body (isothermal) radiation, and the Rayleigh–Jeans formula for this represented the best that classical theory could achieve in this area. However, although the formula agrees well with experiment for long wavelength radiation, it fails entirely for shorter wavelengths. The problem was solved by novel idea that energy is emitted in small packets or quanta; this concept was to revolutionize physics, but it was never fully accepted by Rayleigh. He won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1904, for his work on gas densities and on argon. He was married to the sister of Britain’s most intellectual prime minister, A J Balfour.

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