Robert Millikan

The Discovery of the the charge of an electron
Robert Millikan was an American experimental physicist. He is mostly known for the discovery of the charge of an electron, after fine-tuning an experiment previously carried out by J J Thompson. The experiment that Millikan did is now known as the oil-drop experiment.

Millikan's apparatus had a pair of horizontal metal plates, arranged in parallel. Applying a potential difference across the plates would induce and electrical field in the space between. Four holes were cut were cut into the ring; three for light and one for viewing through a microscope. A fine mist of oil droplets was sprayed into a chamber above the plates. The oil was usually used in vacuum apparatus because it had an extremely low vapour pressure. Ordinary oil would evaporate under the heat of the light source causing the mass of the oil drop to change over the course of the experiment. Some oil drops became electrically charged through friction with the nozzle as they were sprayed. Charging could also happen by including an ionising radiation source (such as an X-ray tube). The droplets entered the space between the plates and, because they were charged,it could be made to rise and fall by changing the voltage across the plates.

Illustration 1: Simple model of the experiment

At first the oil drops are allowed to fall between the plates with the electric field turned off. They very quickly reach a terminal velocity because of friction with the air in the chamber. The field is then turned on and, if it is large enough, the charged drops will start to rise. A drop is selected and kept in the middle of the field of view by alternately switching off the voltage until all the other drops have fallen. The experiment is then continued with this one drop. The drop is allowed to fall and its terminal velocity v1 in the absence of an electric field is calculated. The drag force acting on the drop can then be worked out using Stokes' law:

Now the field is turned back on. This implies that: Once r is calculated. Also. Then we could equate FE with W. and r is the radius of the drop. A more practical approach is to turn V up slightly so that the oil drop rises with a new terminal velocity v2. η is the viscosity of the air. determining FE proves difficult because the mass of the oil drop is difficult to determine without reverting back to the use of Stokes' Law. But in practice this is extremely difficult to do precisely.where v1 is the terminal velocity of the falling drop. what is needed is the apparent weight. However. One conceivable way to work out q would be to adjust V until the oil drop remained steady. For parallel plates where V is the potential difference and d is the distance between the plates. and the electric force on the drop is where q is the charge on the oil drop and E is the electric field between the plates. The weight W is the volume V multiplied by the density ρ and the acceleration due to gravity g. Then . W can easily be worked out. For a droplet the apparent weight can be written as: At terminal velocity the oil drop is not accelerating. Therefore the total force acting on it must be zero and the two forces F and W must cancel one another out. The apparent weight in air is the true weight minus the up thrust .