William Thomson (mineralogist)

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Guglielmo Thomson
Born William Thomson
Died 1806 (1807) (aged 46)
Palermo, Italy
Nationality English
Occupation Geologist
Known for Discovery of Widmanstätten pattern

William Thomson (1760 – November 1806) was an English mineralogist, who used the name Guglielmo Thomson in Italy in later life. He died in Palermo at the early age of 46 years.[1][2]

Discovery of Widmanstätten pattern[edit]

A Widmanstätten pattern appears when certain types of iron meteorite are etched with nitric acid

Thomson at the time was living in Naples. One day he decided to treat with nitric acid a sample of the Krasnojarsk meteorite with the purpose of cleaning it from rust. Shortly after the contact with acid he noticed on the surface of the metal a strange never seen before figures: it was the later-called Widmanstätten pattern.

In 1804 he published his discovery in French on the Bibliothèque Britannique.[3][1][4]:125[5] In 1808 his work was published post-mortem also in Italian language (translated from the original English manuscript) on Atti dell'Accademia Delle Scienze di Siena.[6][7][8]

The discovery is commonly credited to Count Alois von Beckh Widmanstätten probably due the early death of Thomson and the lack of an English publication. The discovery of Widmanstätten was independent, but it dates 1808 and it lacks publication.

So the full credit of the discovery should be assigned to G. Thomson due to chronological priority. For this reason, several authors suggested to call the pattern also Thomson structure.[1][4][9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Gian Battista Vai, W. Glen E. Caldwell. The origins of geology in Italy. Geological Society of America, 2006, ISBN 0-8137-2411-2. – p.184
  2. ^ Torrens, H. S. "Thomson, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/64672.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Thomson, G. (1804) "Essai sur le fer malléable trouvé en Sibérie par le Prof. Pallas" (Essay on malleable iron found in Siberia by Prof. Pallas), Bibliotèque Britannique, 27 : 135–154 ; 209–229. (in French)
  4. ^ a b John G. Burke. Cosmic Debris: Meteorites in History. University of California Press, 1986. ISBN 0-520-05651-5
  5. ^ F. A. Paneth. The discovery and earliest reproductions of the Widmanstatten figures. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 1960, 18, pp.176–182
  6. ^ Thomson, G. (1808). "Saggio di G.Thomson sul ferro malleabile trovato da Pallas in Siberia" [Essay by G. Thomson on malleable iron found by Pallas in Siberia]. Atti dell'Accademia delle Scienze di Siena (in Italian). 9: 37–57. 
  7. ^ Golia, M (2015) Meteorite: Nature and Culture, London: Reaktion Books Limited
  8. ^ Bettoni, G, Faccioli, M and Salvatori, F (2013) documenti geografici: n. 1 febbraio - luglio - nuova serie, Rome: Edizioni Nuova Cultura
  9. ^ O. Richard Norton. The Cambridge encyclopedia of meteorites. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2002. ISBN 0-521-62143-7.