Chadwick’s queuing mistake
Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19
James Chadwick, the discoverer of the neutron, had meant to study mathematics at Victoria University, Manchester but a quirk of fate led him to a physics degree. In the crowded hall of prospective students, Chadwick joined the wrong line and was too shy to speak up when he found he was being interviewed for a place on the physics course.
After obtaining his master’s degree working with Rutherford, Chadwick won a studentship and elected to work with Geiger in Berlin. Geiger introduced Chadwick to the physicists working in Berlin including Einstein, Hahn and Meitner.
When war was declared in 1914, Chadwick was arrested and interned for the duration of the hostilities in a camp for civilian prisoners in a former stable for racehorses, near Spandau to the west of Berlin. Determined not to let imprisonment interrupt his studies, Chadwick asked his German colleagues to send him equipment. He managed to obtain quantities of a new radioactive toothpaste from the camp guards and constructed an electroscope to investigate its emissions. His research inspired one of his fellow prisoners, Charles Drummond Ellis, to change his career aspirations from solider to physicist. After the war, Ellis studied at Cambridge and worked with Rutherford and Chadwick on beta and gamma decay, making a significant contribution to the discovery of the neutrino.