Prof. F.W. Aston’s original Aston Mass-Spectrograph complete with magnet. The first mass spectograph was designed by Cambridge scientist F W Aston. Francis William Aston FRS (1 September – 20 November ) was an English chemist and physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery, by means of his mass spectrograph, of isotopes. W. Wien’s first mass analysis to J.J. Thomson’s discovery of isotopes, F.W. Aston’s mass spectrometers, and the Mattauch–Herzog double focusing spectrometer.

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Francis William Aston

Information about your use of this site is shared with Google. By using this site, you agree to its use of cookies. Registration is free, quick and easy. You’ll be able to read more articles, watch more videos and listen to more podcasts. It takes less than a minute and it’s completely free. By Andrea Sella 3 July How spectorgraph does it take to make a major astin Sometimes it takes decades of painstaking work, methodically sifting and analysing reams of data.

And yet at other times, a flurry of intense specttograph leads rapidly to a revelation. Masw the dawn of the 20th century, a cascade of world-changing discoveries were made, rewriting the textbooks almost every year. A century later, it is easy to disregard how difficult and mysterious the work was, and none more so than the composition of the atom.

Among the many heroes of that time is Joseph Thomson, whose studies of cathode rays at the University of Cambridge, UK, culminated in his discovery of the electron in Thomson then turned his attention to the equally mysterious positive rays that travelled in the opposite direction to the electron in his discharge tubes.

He studied the rays by passing them through a long capillary-shaped anode to obtain a beam and then deflected the beam using parallel electric and magnetic fields.

But Thomson was plagued by confusing and seemingly mmass results. In addition, he preferred his experiments to give a trace or spot on a screen or photographic plate; in other words, his experiments were largely qualitative and lacked reproducibility.


Everything changed when he hired the young Francis Aston in Aston had grown up with a love of chemistry: Aston studied chemistry and physics at the University of Birmingham, UK, always finding time in practicals to practise glassblowing, a skill that would prove crucial only a few years later.

After graduation, he joined a brewery as a fermentation chemist but returned to Birmingham three specrtograph later to study gas discharges with John Poynting, today remembered for the eponymous electromagnetic vector. The parabola method developed steadily and when in neon was introduced into the discharge tube, a pair of closely spaced parabolas appeared; one strong and one faint.

Thompson was thrilled by this, and hoped that he had discovered a new element.

Aston was less certain; Frederick Soddy had recently proposed that an element could exist in different forms — isotopes — although their separation was proving next to impossible. A timely fellowship allowed Aston to work on isotopes independently of Thomson. This was a failure, especially as he was rumoured to have dropped a flask containing one of his precious fractions.

Undeterred, he tried effusion through porous pipeclay and at last began to see minute levels of enrichment that he measured using a quartz microbalance.

The outbreak of war stopped his experiments and he was seconded to the Royal Aircraft Factory in Spectrograoh. When he resumed his work inisotopes were no longer a matter for conjecture and establishing the masses of atoms with high precision was an urgent issue.

The parabola method, however, just would not do. Aston set up a new vacuum system, driven by the latest Gaede mercury pump. To get a stronger beam, he passed his ions aaston two slits rather than a tube. Then two parallel plates deflected the ions through a small angle, allowing ions of a range of energies to be selected.

Aston’s mass spectrograph | Opinion | Chemistry World

He confirmed that neon had two isotopes, as did chlorine, and measured the masses of every element he could find. He was awarded the Nobel prize in and mass spectrometry took off. Today mass spectrometry is one the fastest and most powerful analytical tools of all time, with applications unimaginable even 10 years ago: The mass spectrometer has become one of the great enabling tools of science. F W Aston, Philos. A host of original Christmas chemistry tree ideas have been created to celebrate the forthcoming International Year of the Periodic Table.


We learn to embrace the unexpected, follow evidence over opinion and accept that most experiments fail. Regularly updated and packed full of articles, podcasts psectrograph videos, there is no better way to keep in touch with the chemical sciences. Published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. Site powered by Webvision. Skip to main content Skip to navigation Create your free account Registration is free, quick and easy. References F W Aston, Philos.

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