Arthur Holly Compton

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Arthur Holly Compton.

Arthur Holly Compton (born September 10, 1892 in Wooster , Ohio , † March 15, 1962 in Berkeley , California ) was an American physicist and Nobel Prize winner.

education and profession

After finishing school, Compton attended Wooster College, where his father, Elias Compton, served as dean and professor. After successful graduation (1913) Compton moved to Princeton University to study physics. Here he obtained his master's degree in 1914, followed by a doctorate two years later. After working in the private sector, he worked for one year (1919) at Cambridge University . In 1920 Compton received a call from Washington University ( St. Louis , Missouri ). He moved to the University of Chicago in 1923 . From 1942 to 1945 Compton was head of the plutonium research department (→ nuclear weapon ) as part of the Manhattan project . After the Second World War he returned to Saint Louis (Missouri).


Compton and Heisenberg in Chicago in 1929

Compton investigated the scattering of monochromatic X-rays on crystals around 1922 and made the following observation: The scattered radiation had a lower energy or a greater wavelength than the radiation before the scattering. This experimental result led to the conclusion that the wavelength of high-energy electromagnetic radiation changes when it is scattered by electrons . Accordingly, Compton further concluded, the radiation must have particle character. He finally found the following explanation based on the photon model ( Max Planck , Albert Einstein ). If an X-ray photon (X-ray quantum) with a certain energy and a certain momentum hits an electron, it transfers a small part of its energy and momentum to the electron when it collides. The photon is deflected at a certain angle against the direction of incidence, while the electron evades at a different angle (recoil electron). The physicist had discovered the Compton effect , which was later named after him .

Nobel Prize and Honors

Only a little later, his Scottish colleague Charles TR Wilson succeeded in detecting the "evading" electrons with a cloud chamber . For this work Compton and Wilson shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1927 . In addition to working with X-rays and gamma rays , Compton also dealt with chain reactions and cosmic rays . In 1927 Compton was elected to the National Academy of Sciences , 1928 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In 1932 he became a corresponding member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences , in 1934 he became a member of the Leopoldina . The American Philosophical Society , of which he was a member since 1925, awarded him in 1945 with their Benjamin Franklin Medal . In 1954 he was accepted into the order Pour le Mérite . In 1957 he was awarded the X-ray plaque by the city of Remscheid . In 1970 the lunar crater Compton was named after him and his brother. The asteroid (52337) Compton , discovered in 1992, was named after him. The space telescope for gamma astronomy , initially only known as the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO), was launched with the STS-37 mission of the Space Shuttle Atlantis on April 5, 1991. At over 15 tons, it was the heaviest scientific satellite that the space shuttle had ever put into orbit. After a few months it was renamed Compton Gamma Ray Observatory in honor of Arthur Holly Compton .

Use against nuclear weapons

His involvement in the development of the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project weighed heavily on Compton. In 1956 he published a book called "The Atomic Bomb and Me". Together with 18 other Nobel Prize winners, he signed the Mainau Declaration of July 15, 1955, calling against the use of nuclear weapons.


His older brother Karl Taylor Compton (1887-1954) was a physicist and from 1930 to 1948 President of MIT .

Publications (selection)

  • with Erwin Schuhmacher: The atom bomb and me. Nest Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1958
  • The Freedom of Man. New Haven, Yale University Press, New Haven 1935
  • X-ray and other studies. University of Chicago Press, Chicago 1974

Web links

Commons : Arthur Holly Compton  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ List of members: Arthur H. Compton in: Orden pour le Mérite for Sciences and Arts, 1842-2002 , Bleicher Verlag, Gerlingen, 2002, ISBN 3-88350-175-1
  2. Compton (moon crater) in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature of the IAU (WGPSN) / USGS
  3. Data of the asteroid (52337) Compton (English)
  4. encyclopedia team of the publisher FABrockhaus (ed.): Nobel Prizes . Chronicle of outstanding achievements. Mannheim 2001, ISBN 3-7653-0491-3 , pp. 268 .