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The National MagLab is funded by the National Science Foundation and the State of Florida.

Electron Timeline

The electron has fascinated humankind for centuries. Here are some highlights from the annals of science.

Around 600 B.C.


  • It's 'electric' (boogie woogie woogie!)
  • An English scientist coins the term “electricus" to describe the property Thales observed centuries before. From the Greek word for amber, the word later engenders the terms "electricity" and "electron."


  • Sly as a kite
  • Brainy Ben Franklin takes one for the team by tying a key to a kite during a thunderstorm. He convinces the world that static electricity and lightning are, in fact, the same thing.


  • Taking charge
  • Alessandro Volta learns to store steady, reliable electrical currents in the first batteries.


  • Match made in science
  • Some astute scientists question whether something's going on between electricity and magnetism. After observing them together on numerous occasions, they confirm their suspicions with a series of discoveries; electromagnetism becomes the "it couple" of the century.


  • Faraday furthers the field
  • Michael Faraday uses electricity to split compounds into individual elements, a process termed "electrolysis." He is also to thank for the principles of electromagnetic induction, generation and transmission.


  • Maxwell makes waves
  • James Clerk Maxwell proposes that electromagnetism exists as waves travelling the speed of light, backing this revolutionary thought with his equations.


  • The world gets lit
  • Joseph Swan and Thomas Edison invent and develop the light bulb, changing forever the way we see the world.


  • Name recognition
  • George Johnstone Stoney proposes a fundamental unit of electricity called the "electron."


  • Science goes subatomic
  • J.J. Thompson's experiments conclude the existence of the tiny, negatively charged particles named by Stoney.


  • Fast and frosty
  • Heike Kamerlingh Onnes discovers that, at extremely low temperatures, electrical resistance in mercury drops to zip, a phenomenon that came to be called superconductivity.


  • Coming into focus
  • Ernst Ruska builds the first electron microscope. Using beams of electrons to create images, it provides greater resolution and magnification than light microscopes.


  • Peering beyond the skin
  • Godfrey Hounsfield and Allan Cormack invent a new use for X-rays (which, like light, are produced by the movement of electrons in atoms). Their system uses X-rays in CT scans to look inside the body’s tissues.


  • Electrons connect us, part 1
  • Tim Berners Lee invents the World Wide Web, which combined electronic networks around the world to create what we now know as the internet.


Story by Abigail Engleman