John William Strutt was born in Langford Grove, Essex, England. In spite of poor health throughout his childhood, he entered Trinity College, Cambridge in 1861, and graduated in 1864. His first paper in 1865 was on Maxwell's electromagnetic theory.
Perhaps his most significant early work was his theory explaining the blue color of the sky as the result of scattering of sunlight by small particles in the atmosphere. The Rayleigh scattering law, which evolved from this theory, has since become classic in the study of all kinds of wave propagation.
He also worked on the propagation of sound; while on an excursion to Egypt (1870-1871) taken for health reasons, Strutt wrote his great book The Theory of Sound. In 1873 he succeeded to the title of Baron Rayleigh. From 1879 to 84 he was the second Cavendish professor of experimental physics at Cambridge succeeding Maxwell. Then in 1884 he became secretary of the Royal Society. Rayleigh discovered the inert gas argon in 1895, work which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1904.