Jean Baptiste Perrin Biography

Jean Baptiste Perrin, a renowned French physicist, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926 for his groundbreaking work on the discontinuous structure of matter and his discovery of sedimentation equilibrium. Throughout his career, Perrin made significant contributions to the field of physics, proving scientific theories such as the Brownian motion and the atomic nature of matter. He also determined important values such as Avogadro’s number and the electric charge of cathode rays. Perrin’s influence extended beyond his research, as he was considered the founding father of the National Centre for Scientific Research. In addition to his scientific achievements, Perrin authored numerous books and dissertation papers, further solidifying his legacy in the field of physics.

Quick Facts

  • French Celebrities Born In September Died At Age: 71
  • Family: children: Francis Perrin
  • Atheists
  • Physicists
  • Died on: April 17, 1942
  • Place of death: New York City, New York, United States
  • Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics
  • City: Lille, France
  • Discoveries/inventions: Nature Of Cathode Rays, Brownian Motion
  • Education: University Of Paris, École Normale Supérieure
  • Awards: Matteucci Medal (1911), Nobel Prize in Physics (1926)

Childhood & Early Life

Jean Baptiste Perrin was born on 30 September 1870 at Lille in France. His father was an army officer who died due to injuries following the Franco-Prussian War. He had two sisters. He completed his school education from local schools and graduated from the Lycée Janson-de-Sailly in Paris. Following this, he served a year of mandatory military service.


He was initially appointed as a lecturer in Physical Chemistry at Sorbonne, University of Paris. In 1910, he became a professor there and remained in the post until the German invasion of France during the Second World War. He conducted research on a variety of topics but his initial studies were related to cathode rays and their nature, which he found to be negatively charged particles. The result of this study was shared by him in 1895.

In 1905, after Albert Einstein published his explanation for ‘Brownian Motion’ in terms of atoms, Jean Baptiste Perrin conducted research to verify the same and was subsequently proved right in 1908. His experiments put an end to the several disputes regarding the physical reality of molecules and settled the atomic theory.

His other research work included the effect of X-rays on gas conductivity, disintegration of radium, understanding fluorescence, and the release and dissemination of sound. In 1919, he suggested that nuclear reactions can be a source of energy in stars. This was later described in detail in the process named ‘stellar nucleosynthesis’, by physicists Hans Bethe and Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker during the 1930’s.

In 1927, he along with physiologist André Mayer and chemist André Job established the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique. The institute was funded by Edmond James de Rothschild, a member of the Rothschild banking family. A few years later, in 1933, with the support of the French ministry, a French National Research Council was set up including eight Nobel laureates. Three years later he established the French Central Agency for Scientific Research. Both the institutions were merged under the ‘Centre national de la recherché scientifique’ umbrella in 1939. In 1937, he founded a science museum in Paris named the Palais de la Découverte.

Important Works

Jean Baptiste Perrin is remembered for his research and studies in colloids and his contribution in confirming the Brownian movement. His other significant contributions to science include studies on the nature of cathode rays and validation of the atomic nature of matter.

Awards & Achievements

He was awarded the Joule Prize of the Royal Society in 1896. He was a recipient of the Matteucci Medal from the Italian Society of Sciences in 1911. In 1912, the Vallauri Prize of Bologna was awarded to him. The La Caze Prize of the Paris Academy of Sciences was given to him in 1914. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1926. He was honored with honorary doctorates from prestigious universities of Calcutta, Brussels, Ghent, Liege, Manchester, Oxford, New York, and Princeton, etc.

Personal Life & Legacy

He was an atheist and a supporter of socialism. Jean Baptiste Perrin had a son named Francis Perrin (born in 1901), who grew up to become a physicist. He died on 17 April 1942 in New York at the age of 71. His mortal remains were transported to France after World War II and buried at the Panthéon in Paris.

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