Arthur H. Compton and Compton Scattering

Resources with Additional Information · Compton Honored · Compton Scattering

Arthur H. Compton
Courtesy of
Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory

Arthur Holly 'Compton was a professor at Washington University, studying the scattering of X-rays, when he discovered the effect that is named after him in 1922. …

The Compton effect [Compton scattering] is defined as the decrease in energy (increase in wavelength) of an X-ray or gamma ray photon, when it interacts with matter. This effect demonstrates that light cannot be explained purely as a wave phenomenon. Compton's work provided convincing proof that in scattering experiments, light behaves as a stream of particles whose energy is proportional to the frequency (i.e. inversely proportional to the wavelength). As a result of the interaction, the electron is given part of the energy and a photon containing the remaining energy is emitted in a different direction from the original, so that the overall momentum of the system is conserved. …

The explanation and measurement of the Compton effect earned Compton a share of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1927. …

Compton also discovered the phenomenon of total reflection of X-rays and their complete polarization, which led to a more accurate determination of the number of electrons in an atom. He was also the first to obtain X-ray spectra from ruled gratings, which offers a direct method of measuring the wavelength of X-rays. By comparing these spectra with those obtained when using a crystal, the absolute value of the spacing of atoms in the crystal lattice can be determined. This led to a new measurement of the electronic charge.'1

'Compton [was] dean of physics at the University of Chicago [when he] was put in charge of finding fissionable material at what would be called Chicago Pile 1 at the Metallurgical Laboratory, or Met Lab.'2


Resources with Additional Information

Additional information about Arthur Holly Compton and Compton Scattering is available in electronic documents and on the Web.



Additional Web Pages:

Focus:  Landmarks:  Photons are Real, American Physical Society (APS)

Arthur Holly Compton, Department of Physics, Washington University in St. Louis

Arthur Holly Compton, 1892 -- 1962, National Academies Press (NAP)

Arthur Holly Compton 1892 - 1962, American Institute of Physics (AIP)

Arthur Holly Compton Personal Papers, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections


Compton Honored:

APS Arthur H. Compton Award, Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory (ANL)

Compton Scholars, Department of Physics, Washington University in St. Louis

Arthur H. Compton Lectures, The University of Chicago:  The Enrico Fermi Institute

The Arthur Compton Modern Physics Laboratory, The College of Wooster, Ohio

Arthur Holly Compton Laboratory of Physics, Washington University in St. Louis

Compton Quadrangle, named after The Compton Brothers, Princeton University


Compton Scattering:


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