Francis William Aston – Inventor of mass spectrograph & Isotopes

Francis William Aston – Inventor of mass spectrograph & Isotopes

Francis William Aston

Biography & Contributions

Francis W. Aston [Francis William Aston] was a British chemist, physicist and Nobel Laureate was born on September 01, 1877 – died on November 20, 1945. Aston was remembered for his discovery of a large number of isotopes, mass spectrograph, and whole-number rule.

The mass spectrograph which he invented was a new type of positive-ray apparatus which uses magnetic and electrostatic fields producing opposite deflections in the same plane to convert molecules into ions, then sorts the ions by to their mass-to-charge ratio. Aston himself used the device to identify 212 isotopes. Aston worked with the Royal Aircraft Establishment and conducted research on how the atmosphere affects aeroplane fabrics.

In 1919 he rejoined the Cavendish laboratory to separate the isotopes of neon. In 1920 he formulated the "whole number rule", using the existence of isotopes to revive a hypothesis by William Prout. The mass spectrometer is a device that separates atoms or molecular fragments of different mass and measures those masses with remarkable accuracy. It is widely used in geology, chemistry, biology, and nuclear physics.

His work on isotopes also led to his formulation of the whole number rule which states that "the mass of the oxygen isotope being defined [as 16], all the other isotopes have masses that are very nearly whole numbers," a rule that was used extensively in the development of nuclear energy. Aston studied the current through a gas-filled tube.

Gas-Filled Tube

A gas-filled tube, also known as a discharge tube, is an arrangement of electrodes in a gas within an insulating, temperature-resistant envelope. Gas-filled tubes exploit phenomena related to electric discharge in gases and operate by ionizing the gas with an applied voltage sufficient to cause electrical conduction by the underlying phenomena of the Townsend discharge.

Gases used in gas-filled tube

Mass spectrograph / Mass Spectrometry

Mass Spectrometry is an analytical chemistry technique that helps identify the amount and type of chemicals present in a sample by measuring the mass-to-charge ratio and abundance of gas-phase ions. The spectra are used to determine the elemental or isotopic signature of a sample, the masses of particles and of molecules, and to elucidate the chemical structures of molecules, such as peptides and other chemical compounds.

Mass spectrometry works by ionizing chemical compounds to generate charged molecules or molecule fragments and measuring their mass-to-charge ratios.

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