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Charles Glover Barkla


Charles Glover Barkla

Charles Barkla
Born Charles Glover Barkla
(1877-06-07)7 June 1877[1]
Widnes, Lancashire, England
Died 23 October 1944(1944-10-23) (aged 67)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Nationality United Kingdom
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Cambridge
University of Liverpool
King's College London
University of Edinburgh
Alma mater University College Liverpool
Cambridge University
Academic advisors J. J. Thomson
Oliver Lodge
Known for X-ray scattering
X-ray spectroscopy
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1917)
Hughes Medal of the Royal Society

Charles Glover Barkla FRS[2] FRSE (7 June 1877 – 23 October 1944) was a British physicist, and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917 for his work in X-ray spectroscopy and related areas in the study of X-rays (Roentgen rays).[3]


  • Life 1
  • Personal life 2
  • Memorials to Barkla 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Barkla was born in Widnes, England to John Martin Barkla, a secretary for the Atlas Chemical Company and Sarah Glover, daughter of a watchmaker.

Barkla studied at the Liverpool Institute and proceeded by Liverpool University with a County Council Scholarship and a Bibby Scholarship. Barkla initially studied Mathematics but later specialised in Physics under Sir Oliver Lodge. During the absence of Oliver Lodge due to ill health, Barkla would replace him in lectures.

In 1899, Barkla was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, with an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851,[4] to work in the Cavendish Laboratory under the physicist J. J. Thomson (discoverer of the electron). During his first two years at Cambridge, Barkla would, under the directions of J.J. Thomson, study the velocity of electromagnetic waves along wires of different widths and materials.

After a year and a half at Trinity College, Cambridge, his love of music led him to transfer to King's College, Cambridge in order to sing in their chapel choir. Barkla's baritone voice was of remarkable beauty and his solo performances would always be fully attended. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1903, and then his Master of Arts degree in 1907.[5] He married Mary Esther Cowell in the same year.[6]

In 1913, after having worked at the Universities of Cambridge, Liverpool, and King's College London, Barkla was appointed as a Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, a position that he held until his death. Barkla married Mary Esther Cowell in 1907, with whom he would have two sons and one daughter.

Barkla made significant progress in developing and refining the laws of X-ray scattering, X-ray spectroscopy, the principles governing the transmission of X-rays through matter, and especially the principles of the excitation of secondary X-rays. For his discovery of the characteristic X-rays of elements, Barkla was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917. He was also awarded the Hughes Medal of the British Royal Society that same year.

Personal life

A religious man, Barkla was a Methodist and considered his work to be part of the quest for God, the Creator".[7][8][9]

He died in Edinburgh on 23 October 1944.

Memorials to Barkla

The lunar crater Barkla was named in the honor of Charles Barkla. A commemorative plaque has been installed in the vicinity of the Canongate, near the Faculty of Education Buildings, at the University of Edinburgh. Additionally, a lecture theatre at the University of Liverpool's Physics department, as well as a Biophysics laboratory in the Biological science department,[10] are named after him. In 2012, a gritter in Barkla's hometown of Widnes was named in his honour, following a competition run by the local newspaper.[11]


  1. ^ Charles Glover Barkla – Biography
  2. ^ Allen, H. S. (1947). "Charles Glover Barkla. 1877-1944".  
  3. ^ Shampo, M. A.; Kyle, R. A. (1993). "Charles Barkla--Nobel Laureate". Mayo Clinic proceedings. Mayo Clinic 68 (12): 1176.  
  4. ^ 1851 Royal Commission Archives
  5. ^ "Barkla, Charles Glover (BRKL899CG)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ School of Mathematics and Statistics. "Charles Glover Barkla" (2007), University of St Andrews, Scotland. JOC/EFR.
  8. ^ H.S. Allen (1947), Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society, Vol. 5, No. 15,. "Charles Glover Bark"
  9. ^ Charles Glover Barkla, Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography (2008)
  10. ^
  11. ^ "A gritter named Barkla" Physics World Archive, February 2012

External links

  • Biography in Nobel website
  • Obituary
  • his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements
  • Biography at
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