Charles Glover Barkla was a British physicist, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917. Check out this biography to know about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

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Born on
07 June 1877 AD
Died At Age
Sun Sign
Gemini    Gemini Men
Born in
Widnes, Lancashire, England
Died on
23 October 1944 AD
place of death
Edinburgh, Scotland
John Martin Barkla
Sarah Glover
Mary Esther Cowell
Nobel Prize in Physics (1917)
Hughes Medal of the Royal Society
Charles Glover Barkla
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Charles Glover Barkla was a British physicist, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917 for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements. Born at Widnes, Lancashire, he was a brilliant student from the start. He joined the University College, Liverpool, where he studied physics under Sir Oliver Lodge. It is possible that his interest in radiation was developed at this time. Subsequently, after earning his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degree from Liverpool he joined Trinity College, Cambridge and there he started working under J.J. Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory on velocity of electromagnetic waves. Later he went back to the University of Liverpool from where he earned his D.Sc. Subsequently, he worked for four years at the same institute first as demonstrator, then as Assistant Lecturer and finally as a full Professor. Afterwards, he spent around four more years at the King's College at the University of London and lastly joined the University of Edinburg as the Professor of Natural Philosophy, a position he held until his death. Over the years, he gained considerable reputation as an experimental physicist and earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on X-ray.

Childhood & Early Years
  • Charles Glover Barkla was born on 7 June 1877, in Widnes, near Liverpool, England. His father, John Martin Barkla, was a secretary for the Atlas Chemical Company and his mother, Sarah Glover, was the daughter of a watchmaker.
  • Barkla had his secondary education at Liverpool Institute. In October 1894, he entered University College, Liverpool with a County Council Scholarship and a Bibby Scholarship to study mathematics and physics. Later, he concentrated on physics, studying the subject under Oliver Joseph Lodge, who was famous for his work on electromagnetic radiation.
  • In 1898, Charles Barkla received his B.Sc. degree with a First Class honors in physics. In the following year, he completed his master’s degree at the same institute. During this period, he also served as first president of the University Physical Society and occasionally, took classes in place of Professor Lodge.
  • In autumn of 1899, after receiving his master’s degree from University of Liverpool, Barkla joined Trinity College, Cambridge. Here, he started working on the velocity of electromagnetic waves along wires of different widths and materials, under J. J. Thomson, in the Cavendish Laboratory.
  • In 1900, after one and half years at the Trinity, Barkla shifted to King’s College, Cambridge. His main aim was to take part in its chapel choir. He had a baritone voice, which enthralled the audience and his solos filled up the chapel.
  • In 1901, his two year scholarship was extended for one more year. The following year, he received a choral scholarship, but he preferred to go back to Liverpool. It is not known if he had actually received a PhD; but it is believed that J.J. Thomson was his doctoral advisor.
  • In 1902, Charles Glover Barkla returned to the University of Liverpool as Oliver Lodge Fellow and began his work on Röntgen radiation.
  • In June 1903, he established that secondary radiation emitted by all gases was of the same wavelength as that of the primary beam and that the scattering was proportionate to the mass of the atom.
  • In 1904, continuing his research on the same subject, Barkla showed that just like light, x-rays are also a form of electromagnetic radiation. His work during this period earned him his degree in Doctor of Science (D. Sc) from the University of Liverpool.
  • Subsequently in 1905, he was appointed as a demonstrator at the University of Liverpool; but within a short period became an Assistant Lecturer. Sometime in 1906, Barkla, along with his team, used X-ray scattering to determine the number of electrons in the carbon atom.
  • In 1907, he was made a Physics Lecturer in Advanced Electricity at the same institute. The post was especially created for him. He remained there until 1909.
  • In 1909, Barkla joined King's College at the University of London as Wheatstone Professor of Physics, succeeding H. A. Wilson. There he continued his work on X-ray and by 1911 began to be regarded as an internationally reputed physicist.
  • In July 1913, he joined Edinburg University as the Professor of Natural Philosophy, holding the position till his death in 1944. Here he continued working on the same subject and at the same time, took number of administrative initiatives.
  • Barkla took a prominent part in instituting honors degree courses in pure science at the University of Edinburgh. He especially worked to develop an honors school of physics at the institute. All along he followed his mentor, J.J. Thomson, of Cavendish Laboratory in his style of leadership.
  • However, from 1916 onwards, he became rather isolated from the scientific community. That was mainly because he cited only his own work and based his theories only on the phenomenon he himself had investigated. His work on ‘J-Phenomenon’ added to this seclusion.
Major Works
  • Charles Glover Barkla is best known for his work on X-ray scattering. Starting his work in 1903, he established that X-ray scattering occurs when X rays are deflected by the atomic electrons, while they pass through matter. This technique proved to be particularly useful in the study of atomic structures.
  • Around 1906, he also showed that each element had a unique secondary spectrum, irrespective of its temperature, structure, and chemical composition. Its spectrum was therefore a characteristic property of an atom.
  • Later, he developed the laws governing the transmission of X-rays through matter, especially the principles of the excitation of secondary X-rays. In addition, he made significant input in X -ray spectroscopy.
Awards & Achievements
  • He was elected a Fellow of Royal Society of London in 1912 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburg in 1914.
  • In 1916, he was appointed as Bakerian Lecturer by the Royal Society of London.
  • Charles Glover Barkla received the 1917 Nobel Prize for Physics “for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements".
  • In 1917, he was awarded the Hughes Medal "for his researches in connection with X-ray radiation".
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1907, Barkla married Mary Esther Cowell. The couple had two sons and one daughter. The youngest of them was Flight Lieutenant Michael Barkla, who died in action in 1943. Michael was also a brilliant scholar and his untimely death affected Barkla to a great extent.
  • Charles Glover Barkla died on 23 October 1944 in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the age of 67.
  • Lunar cater ‘Barkla’, which has a diameter of 42 km and is located at 10.7° S, 67.2° E on the lunar surface, has been named in his honor.

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