Charles Glover Barkla

Banquet speech

Charles Glover Barkla’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, June 1, 1920

Let me first say how much I regret that the British are not more fully represented at this celebration. When the invitation came to hand Professor Sir W.H. Bragg had already entered into several important engagements which could not conveniently be cancelled, and unfortunately Professor W.L. Bragg did not receive his invitation until too late to make preparations for the journey.

The Nobel Prize is without doubt the highest honour, the most coveted honour, which can be bestowed on a Scientist. There are of course very obvious reasons for this. It would be affectation on my part not to mention the monetary value of the prize; this is especially important at the present time, when rewards are given more than ever to those who can show the immediate practical results of their labours, and when those who seek knowledge and search after new methods are in danger of being left to pursue their course unrecognised and unheeded. Not only is the reward of great assistance to the scientist whose remuneration is slight; it impresses on ‘the man in the street’ as nothing else could, the importance of work being accomplished in a sphere far removed from his own. Further, the majority of honours are awarded with a definite and intentional bias in favour of scientists of certain nationality, whereas the Nobel awards are made without consideration either of social position or of nationality. Let me say what a unique position the Swedish Academy of Science holds among all the scientific societies of the world. It has the power such as no other body possesses, to put its stamp, – its hall-mark – upon the work of any investigator, indeed to put the stamp upon any man or woman and to mark him or her out as a person of undisputed eminence, a person whose name shall endure. This is a position of great responsibility. May I congratulate the Swedish Academy of Science on the impartiality which it has hitherto shown in its selections. The Nobel Prize is a truly international award.

So remarkable is this that even in Edinburgh people have asked if Barkla must not be a Swede, that he should receive this recognition in Sweden. Perhaps there is some excuse for this question in what appears to be the Scandinavian form of the name Barkla. I am afraid, however, I can’t claim the possession of Swedish blood.

As an Englishman permit me now to say with what pleasure I learnt of the election of Professor Planck and Professor Stark to the Nobel Prizes for the years 1918 and 1919. I mention these because they have been most recently announced, and because the work for which the awards were made, being in my own particular field of science, is familiar to me. Planck’s theory of radiation and Planck’s constant are on every physicist’s lips. Indeed it is impossible to deliver courses of lectures to university students without repeated reference to Planck’s investigations. My relations with Professor Stark have been of a somewhat more personal nature. I think I can truly say that I owe almost as much to Professor Stark as to any man for the publicity given to my own work on Rontgen radiation. For it was at Professor Starck’s invitation that I gave in the Jahrbuch der Radioaktivitat und Elektronik the first full and connected account of my investigations on Secondary Radiations. I am glad that Professor Stark’s numerous and meritorious investigations have received the recognition which was their due.

I am happy to meet these distinguished Germans in this city so renowned for its hospitality. It is a privilege to visit such a city, to see its palatial buildings devoted to the study of science, and to meet its world-famous scientists – of whom I may specially mention Professor Arrhenius.

It seems to me that the Swedish Academy of Science may be qualifying for the Nobel Peace Prize. It recognises no nationality; it discourages unworthy national feeling and prejudice. We are all dwellers on this one small earth; we live one life, die one death; we have the same difficulties to contend with; we ought in common to fight the foes of ignorance and wrong.

I thank you again for your great kindness, and for a real Swedish welcome.

Prior to the speech Professor A. Gullstrand, the Nobel Committee for Physics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, made the following speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Science can be looked upon as a living organism whose health and prosperity is dependent on a good circulation of its blood. By this circulation blood that leaves any organ is mixed up with blood from the other organs and then distributed to every part of the immense organism that fills the world. Thus in any place an appropriate organ can influence the composition of the blood and the health of science. But there are also other organs with the special function of stimulating the organism itself and its blood-circulation. An organ of this kind is the Nobel Institution, and we have been accustomed to see here an afflux of some of the very best blood of science on occasions like this. Now, during the last years, for reasons known to us all, circulation has been impaired, and therefore the Royal Academy of Science has had no opportunity until now to invite as her guests the distinguished men that have won their Nobel prizes since that fatal month of August 1914. That year the distribution of the prizes was postponed, but in 1915 two prizes were distributed both for physics and for chemistry. They were awarded to Professor von Laue of Berlin, Professor, now Sir William Bragg of London and his son, Mr Lawrence Bragg of Cambridge, Professor Richards of Cambridge in the United States and Professor Willstätter of Munich. Three years later a prize for physics was awarded to Professor Barkla of Edinburgh. Only Messrs von Laue, Willstätter and Barkla have responded to our invitation to see them here to-day.

Laureates, on behalf of the Royal Academy of Science and in the name of us all, I bid you heartily welcome. I offer you our sincere congratulations to the eminent work already done by you, and I express our confident hope that you will continue your work in the future on the same high level as before, and that science will profit by it as hitherto.

Professor Barkla! Before it was known that the nature of X-rays is the same as that of light, with a difference only in wave-length, you had found a form of polarization of those rays, and by your investigation of their absorption you had developed a form of spectroscopy, before it was known that there is a spectrum in the real sense of the word. You discovered a kind of secondary X-radiation that is independent of the chemical constitution, but characteristic of the element, and this characteristic X-radiation, now known as a line spectrum, has proved a phenomenon of fundamental importance.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1914-1918, Editor Carl Gustaf Santesson, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1920

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1917


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