He studied Science at Liverpool University then did postgraduate studies at Cambridge University. In 1924 he began lecturing in Physics at Durham University. In 1925 aged only 25 he was made a Professor of Physics at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada. In 1934 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
In 1935 he returned to Britain as Professor of Applied Physics at Glasgow University. In 1936 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Edward Taylor Jones, John Walton, Sir Edward Battersby Bailey and John Graham Kerr. He resigned and was re-elected in 1942. His second proposers were Edward Hindle, Sir Edmund Taylor Whittaker, James Pickering Kendall and James Ritchie.
In 1948 he left Britain again to become a Master at Rhodes University in South Africa in 1951 becoming both Principal and Vice Chancellor. Glasgow University gave him an honorary doctorate (LLD) in 1953.
- Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada 1984
- "Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada - University of Saskatchewan". library.usask.ca.
- Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
- "Biography of Thomas Alty". www.universitystory.gla.ac.uk.
- Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada 1987