Arthur Holly Compton

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Compton, Arthur Holly


Born Sept. 10, 1892, in Wooster, Ohio; died Mar. 15, 1962, in Berkeley, Calif. American physicist. Member of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Compton received an M.A. degree from Princeton University in 1914. He was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., from 1920 to 1923 and at the University of Chicago from 1923 to 1945. From 1945 to 1953 he held the chancellorship of Washington University, where he was a distinguished service professor of natural philosophy from 1954.

In 1920 at the Cavendish Laboratory (Cambridge, England), Compton began studying X-ray scattering and absorption. In 1922 he discovered the change in the wavelength of X rays when scattered by electrons (see COMPTON EFFECT) and formulated a theory for it based on the concept of light as a stream of photons (Nobel Prize, 1927). He discovered the phenomenon of total internal reflection of X rays from a mirror surface of glass and metals. Compton also developed a method for computing the distribution of electron density in crystals and some atoms. In the 1930’s he was involved in studying cosmic rays and discovered the latitudinal effect, which demonstrates the corpuscular nature of primary cosmic rays. From 1941 to 1945 he worked on the development of the atomic bomb.


“A Quantum Theory of the Scattering of X-rays by Light Elements.” Physical Review, 1923, vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 483–502.
“The Total Reflexion of X-rays.” Philosophical Magazine, 1923, vol. 45, no. 270, pp. 1121–31.
Atomic Quest: A Personal Narrative. London [and elsewhere] 1956.
In Russian translation:
Rentgenovskie luchi. Teoriia i eksperiment. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941. (With S. Allison.)


Allison, S. K. “Arthur Holly Compton.” In Biographical Memoirs, vol. 38. New York-London, 1965.
References in periodicals archive ?
25) Compton, "Personal Reminiscences," in The Cosmos of Arthur Holly Compton, ed.
16) Arthur Holly Compton, Atomic Quest (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956), 344-5.
19) Conant to Compton, January 14, 1957, Arthur Holly Compton Personal Papers, University Archives, Department of Special Collections, Washington University Libraries, series 6, box 17, folder "C.
Arthur Holly Compton was about to become a prophet of science.
2) Complete lists of his 182 scientific papers are found in Scientific Papers of Arthur Holly Compton, ed.