Charles Glover Barkla
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1917
Born: 7 June 1877, Widnes, United Kingdom
Died: 23 October 1944, Edinburgh, Scotland
Affiliation at the time of the award: Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Prize motivation: “for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements”
Charles Glover Barkla received his Nobel Prize one year later, in 1918.
Prize share: 1/1
Charles Barkla was born in Widnes outside Liverpool. After studies at the University of Liverpool, he worked under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Barkla was interested in music and applied to King's College because he wanted to sing in its famous choir. He became a professor at the University of Edinburgh in 1913. When he received the Nobel Prize in 1920, Barkla gave a speech in which he praised the awarding institutions for supporting international science in a time of extreme conflicts between nations.
Following the discovery of X-rays, it was soon established that an irradiated compound emitted secondary X-rays. In secondary spectra, lines appeared corresponding to different wavelengths. Around 1906, Charles Barkla showed that each element’s secondary spectrum was unique, irrespective of temperature, structure, and chemical composition. Its spectrum was therefore a characteristic property of an atom and thus became an important tool in atomic research.