Joseph John Thomson was born in Cheetham Hill, Manchester on 18 December 1856, the son of James John Thomson, bookseller and publisher and his wife Emma. In 1871 Thomson was admitted to Owens College Manchester and studied there until 1876, when he was awarded an entrance scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1880 he graduated as Second Wrangler, was 2nd Smith's Prizeman and was made a fellow in the same year. He became a college lecturer at Trinity in 1883 and the following year succeeded Lord Rayleigh as Professor of Experimental Physics.
Thomson's research concerned the passage of electricity through gases. In 1897 he announced his discovery of the electron to an audience at the Royal Institution and in 1912, assisted by F W Aston, he discovered isotopes of neon. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1906
In 1918 Thomson became Master of Trinity, resigning from his chair in favour of Rutherford. However, a personal chair was created to enable him to continue his researches. He died in 1940.