Sir James Chadwick was born in 1891 in Manchester. At age 16, he was awarded a scholarship to attend the Victoria University of Manchester.
He earned a master’s degree in Physics in 1913 from the University of Manchester after spending time studying under Ernest Rutherford. He then continued his education at the Technische Hochschule in Berlin.
Unfortunately, as an Englishman in Germany, he was put into a prison camp in Ruhleben when World War I began, and remained trapped there until the war ended in 1918.
At the end of the war, he returned to England to work again with Rutherford at the University of Cambridge.
He earned his doctoral degree in Physics in 1921, and two years later he became the assistant director of research at the University of Cambridge. In the Cavendish laboratory, he and Rutherford studied elements and the components of the nucleus (center) of an atom.
In their work, Rutherford and Chadwick identified a small particle called a proton inside the nucleus of a hydrogen atom, and they said that it must also a component in the nucleus of all atoms.
In 1932, Chadwick found that certain elements could release energy when blasted with other kinds of particles, as radiation. Chadwick’s observed this and realized that this release of energy can’t be positive or negative.
If this blast of energy is not positive or negative, then it must be neutral. So Chadwick came up with the idea that a tiny particle inside the nucleus of an atom exists called a neutron.
Additionally, this discovery allowed for a brand new method of disintegrating atoms, since the lack of charge that neutrons possess allows them to enter into the nucleus of an atom, creating nuclear fission.
This work earned him the position of chair of the Physics department at University of Liverpool in 1935. That same year, his discovery of the neutron earned him the 1935 Nobel Prize for Physics. He used his prize money to fund nuclear physics research at the University of Liverpool.
Soon, however, World War II broke out, and by the year 1940 he was brought into a committee with the purpose of determining whether an atomic bomb could be developed.
By 1941, he and the other members realized that only 10 kg of uranium would create a successful atomic bomb.
Although he was tentative about this revelation, he became the British delegate to the Manhattan Project, the code name for the secret American project for creating and using atomic bombs against the Axis powers in World War II.
After the completion of the Manhattan Project, the implementation of 2 atomic bombs by the Allies, and the end of the war, Chadwick was considered a hero and earned a knighthood in 1945.
In 1946, he became the British delegate and scientific advisor for the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission.
In addition, he was awarded the Medal of Merit by the United States government, and was later awarded the Royal Society’s Copley Medal in 1950.
Chadwick retired in 1958, and passed away in 1974 at the age of 82.