John Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh

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John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh
Signature of John William Strutt
Caricature from 1899

John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh (born November 12, 1842 in Langford Grove, Maldon , England, † June 30, 1919 in Terlins Place near Witham , England), was an English physicist . In 1904 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics .


As a child, Strutt was of a weak constitution, so his school visits to Eton and Harrow were short-lived. He showed the first signs of a certain mathematical talent at the Reverend Warner's boarding school, where he was being prepared for university attendance. In 1861 he went to Trinity College , Cambridge to study mathematics.

After graduation, he received a scholarship from Trinity College from 1866 to 1871. In 1872 he had to leave the country because of a rheumatic attack, he traveled to Egypt and Greece. On his return a year later, his father died and Strutt traditionally had to take over the family's farm, which he handed over to his younger brother in 1876.

Now he could devote himself fully to the natural sciences again. In 1879 he followed James Clerk Maxwell as Professor of Experimental Physics and Head of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1886 he was elected a corresponding member of the Göttingen Academy of Sciences . From 1887 to 1905 he was a professor at the Royal Institution of Great Britain .

Strutt was Lord Lieutenant of Essex from 1892 to 1901 . In the Royal Society he was a member from 1873; this awarded him the Royal Medal in 1882 ; from 1905 to 1908 he was President of the Royal Society. Since 1886 he was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a member of the American Philosophical Society . In 1890 the Bavarian Academy of Sciences appointed him its corresponding member. He belonged to the Prussian Academy of Sciences from 1896 as a corresponding member and from 1910 as a foreign member. The American Academy of Arts and Sciences also elected him an honorary foreign member in 1888, and the National Academy of Sciences in 1898. He served as Chancellor of his university, Cambridge University, from 1908 to 1919. In 1919 Strutt was also president of the Society for Psychical Research .

He married Evelyn Balfour in 1871, sister of the future Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, 1st Earl of Balfour . The couple had three sons, the eldest of whom, Robert John Strutt , also became a physicist. Strutt died in 1919.


Strutt initially conducted research in the fields of optics and vibration theory , which he dealt largely with mathematics. Later he expanded his interests so much that he covered almost the entire field of physics: electricity , thermodynamics , wave theory and statistical physics .

Strutt prepared Sir William Ramsay's work in the field of noble gases. In 1892 Strutt reported that "nitrogen" obtained from air has a greater density than nitrogen obtained from nitrogen compounds. Ramsay then experimented with atmospheric nitrogen and found the noble gas argon . Strutt and Ramsay continued to work together from 1884 to 1885 on the characterization of atmospheric gases.

Strutt explained the blue color of the sky on the basis of the scattering of light by small particles ( Rayleigh scattering ).

Strutts Collected Papers were published in six volumes by Cambridge University Press between 1899 and 1920. His work on liquid droplets contained therein served Niels Bohr as inspiration for his theory of nuclear fission, published together with Archibald Wheeler . His treatises are pleasantly characterized by clarity and mathematical elegance and are still relatively easy and rewarding to read today.

In 1907 Strutt developed the duplex theory , which contributes significantly to understanding the process of natural hearing in humans.


In 1895 he was awarded the Barnard Medal .

In 1904 Strutt received the Nobel Prize in Physics for determining the density of the most important gases and for discovering argon .

The Rayleigh crater is named after him.

The Rayleigh Medal (Institute of Physics) and Rayleigh Medal (Institute of Acoustics) are named in his honor.



  • The Theory of Sound . 2 volumes. Macmillan, 1877 ( digitized ), reprint at Dover
  • Collected optics papers of Lord Rayleigh . 2 volumes. Optical Society of America, 1994
  • Scientific papers . 6 volumes. Cambridge University Press, 1899-1920
  • with William Ramay: Argon, a new constituent of the atmosphere . Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC 1896

See also


Web links

Commons : John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Holger Krahnke: The members of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen 1751-2001 (= Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Philological-Historical Class. Volume 3, Volume 246 = Treatises of the Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Mathematical-Physical Class. Series 3, volume 50). Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2001, ISBN 3-525-82516-1 , p. 197.
  2. ^ Fellows Directory. Biographical Index: Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002. (PDF file) Royal Society of Edinburgh, accessed April 13, 2020 .
  3. ^ Member History: John W. Strutt Rayleigh. American Philosophical Society, accessed November 5, 2018 .
  4. ^ Karl-Eugen Kurrer : The History of the Theory of Structures. Searching for Equilibrium . Ernst & Sohn , Berlin 2018, p. 517ff., ISBN 978-3-433-03229-9 .
  5. ^ Lord Rayleigh: Density of Nitrogen . Letters to the Editor. In: Nature . tape 46 , no. 1196 , September 1892, ISSN  1476-4687 , p. 512–513 , doi : 10.1038 / 046512c0 (English, - Textarchiv - Internet Archive - The production method from ammonia had been proposed by Ramsay.): “Density of nitrogen […] to two methods of preparation I obtain quite distinct values. The relative difference [...] can only be attributed to a variation in the character of the gas. "
predecessor Office successor
John Strutt Baron Rayleigh
Robert Strutt