• Francis Aston was born in Harborne, now part of Birmingham, on September 1, 1877. He was the third child of William Aston and Fanny Charlotte Hollis. He was educated at Harborne Vicarage School and Malvern College where his interest in science was aroused.
  • Aston received Chemistry Nobel Prize for the year 1922  "for his discovery, by means of his mass spectrograph, of isotopes, in a large number of non-radioactive elements, and for his enunciation of the whole-number rule".
  • Aston  worked  on the properties of the Crookes Dark Space in discharge tubes. And he  had discovered the phenomenon which is known as the Aston Dark Space (Electrons leave the cathode with energy which is not enough to ionize or excite atoms, leaving a thin dark layer next to the cathode). In 1910, he became an assistant to Sir J.J. Thomson at Cambridge, who was investigating positively charged rays emanating from gaseous discharges. From experiments with neon, during Aston’s assistantship Thomson obtained the first evidence for isotopes among the stable (nonradioactive) elements. Aston initially thought that he had discovered a new element, similar to neon, which he called “meta-neon.” However, his research of meta-neon was interrupted by World War I, during which he worked at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough.
  • Aston constructed a new type of positive-ray apparatus, and which was later called the mass spectrometer. Aston used the mass spectrograph to show that not only neon but also many other elements are mixtures of isotopes. Aston’s achievement is illustrated by the fact that he discovered 212 of the 287 naturally occurring isotopes. From the results of this work he was able to formulate the so-called ‘Whole Number Rule’ which states that, the mass of the oxygen isotope being defined; all the other isotopes have masses that are very nearly whole numbers. Aston continued to make measurements, using mass instrument, with ever-increasing refinement and precision. He observed and was able to measure those deviations from the Whole Number Rule which became important in the field of atomic energy.

  • Aston awarded Fellow of the Royal Society in 1921. Later he has also received several other medals like the John Scott,  Paterno,  Royal and  Duddell medals.
  • In his private life, Aston, a bachelor, was an enthusiastic sportsman and  skiing, rock climbing, tennis and swimming were among the sports in which he excelled. Coming from a musical family, he was capable of playing the piano, violin and cello at a level such that he regularly played in concerts at Cambridge. Conservative in politics and of no decided religious views, Aston was also an animal lover, a keen traveler, and a technically brilliant photographer.

  • Aston passed away November 20, 1945, in Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Contributed by Dr A Manjula, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad