Nobel Prize in Physics. Jean Baptiste Perrin received world-wide notoriety after being awarded the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physics. He was given the coveted award, according to the Nobel Prize committee, "for his work on the discontinuous structure of matter, and especially for his discovery of sedimentation equilibrium." Starting in 1913, he was nominated for a Nobel Prize candidacy 47 times, yet in two different categories: Physics 36 nominations and Chemistry 11. He was credited with two major scientific finds. First through experimentation in 1908, he maintained that if molecules were real, particles blended into a liquid should not all sink to the bottom but should distribute themselves throughout the liquid. Besides this find, he substantiated Albert Einstein's 1905 theory that Brownian motion: the random movement of small particles in a liquid was due to collisions between the particles and molecules in the liquid. Born one of three children of an army officer who died from injuries as a result of the Franco-Prussian War, he served a year of mandatory military service after finishing his education in local schools. He entered France’s most elite institution of learning, Ecole Normale Superieure, graduating in 1897 with a doctorate of science degree. Even before graduating in 1895, his research in cathode and x-ray waves was receiving professional recognition. He was appointed, in the same year, to an entry-level position in physical chemistry at the Sorbonne, University of Paris. He became Professor in 1910; a post which he held till 1940, when Nazi Forces invaded France during World War II. In 1897 Perrin married Henriette Duportal, an author of children’s books, with whom he had a son and a daughter. He authored many textbooks and scientific papers, which appeared in other author’s textbooks. From the date of release to 1936, his 1913 book “Atoms” sold 30,000 copies. His principal papers were: “Cathode Rays and X-rays” in 1897; “The Principles” in 1901; “Contact Electrificaton” from 1904 to 1905; “Molecular Reality” in 1909; “Matter and Light” in 1919; and “Light and Chemical Reaction” in 1925. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received numerous other awards including the Joule Prize of the Royal Society in 1896, from Italy in 1911 the Matteucci Medal and in 1912 the Vallauri Prize of Bologna , and in 1914, the La Caze Prize of the Paris Academy of Sciences. He received several university honorary degrees including from facilities India, the United States, and throughout Europe. He was a member of many professional learned societies around the world including China. In 1923 he was elected to the French Academy of Sciences. He became a Commander of the Legion of Honour in 1926, and from Belgium, he was made Commander of the British Empire and of the Order of Leopold. In 1933, with the support of the French ministry, he formed the French National Research Council, which contained eight Nobel Prize recipients. From this council, a means was established for scientific research by France’s most talented scientists to be done outside of the limits of a university. Among his students was nuclear physicist Pierre Victor Auger. In 1937, he founded a science museum in Paris named the Palais de la Découverte. During World War I, he was an officer in the engineer corps. During World War II when the Nazi Forces invaded France in 1940, he left his homeland and escaped to the United States. In June of 1940, he reached Casablanca, and then boarding the “SS Excambion” in December of 1941,” arriving in New York City on December 23, 1941. After this ordeal, he died in four months, but in 1948, his cremated ashes were repatriated from the United States to France on the battleship Jeanne d’Arc, to be buried in the Panthéon in Paris, a mausoleum for the remains of distinguished French citizens. His wife died in 1938, but a colleague became his companion and made the trip to the United States with him.
Bio by: Linda Davis