Owen Willans Richardson

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Richardson, Owen Willans


Born Apr. 26, 1879, in Dewsbury, Yorkshire; died Feb. 15, 1959, in Alton, Hampshire. English physicist. Fellow of the Royal Society of London (1913).

Richardson graduated from Cambridge University in 1900. From 1900 to 1906 he was on the staff of the Cavendish Laboratory, and from 1906 to 1913 he was a professor at Princeton University. In 1914, Richardson became affiliated with the University of London. He was a professor there from 1914 to 1924 and director of research in physics from 1924 to 1944, in which year he became emeritus professor.

Richardson’s most important works dealt with thermionic emission. In 1901, Richardson discovered the dependence of thermionic current density on the temperature of the surface of the metal. The equation describing this relationship is now known as the Richardson equation. Richardson’s other areas of research included the photoelectric effect, the emission of electrons under the action of chemical agents, magnetism, quantum theory, spectroscopy, and the physics of X rays.

Richardson received a Nobel Prize in 1928.


The Electron Theory of Matter, 2nd ed. Cambridge, 1916.
The Emission of Electricity from Hot Bodies, 2nd ed. London-New York, 1921.
Molecular Hydrogen and Its Spectrum. New Haven-London, 1934.


Wilson, W. “Owen Willans Richardson (1879–1959).” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, 1959, vol. 5, pp. 207–15. (Contains bibliography.)
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The first such winner was Owen Willans Richardson who, in 1928, won the Nobel Prize for Physics.