Childhood & Early Years
Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn was born on the 3 December 1886, in Örebro , south-central Sweden. His father, Nils Reinhold Georg Siegbahn, was a stationmaster of the State Railways and was posted at Orebro at time of his birth. His mother’s name was Emma Sofia Mathilda Zetterberg.
Manne Siegbahn had his secondary education at Högre Allmänna Realläroverker, Stockholm. On passing out from there in 1906, he entered the University of Lund, receiving his candidate’s degree in 1908, the licentiate degree in 1910 and his doctorate in physics in 1911.
His dissertation paper was titled ‘Magnetische Feldmessung’ (magnetic field measurements). Concurrently, from 1907 to 1911, he also served as an assistant to Professor J. R. Rydberg, known for devising the Rydberg formula.
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Immediately after receiving doctoral degree, Siegbahn was appointed as a docent at the University of Lund. However, he spent the summer of 1911 studying in Paris and Berlin.
On returning to Lund he organized his own research group and in 1914 started working on X-ray spectroscopy. In 1915, he became a Deputy Professor of Physics in the same university.
In 1916, he discovered a new group of wavelengths in X-ray emission spectra. It later came to be known as the M series. Thereafter, he concentrated on developing equipments as well as techniques suitable for accurate determination of wavelengths of X-rays.
Sometime now, Professor Rydberg’s health began to fail and he remained absent for a prolonged period. Siegbahn had to take his classes. When Rydberg died in 1920, he was appointed in his place as a full professor.
In 1923, Siegbahn received an offer from the University of Uppsala, which was at that time Sweden’s premier university and had a very well established physics department. Although initially in two minds he later accepted it and moved to Uppsala.
At the University of Uppsala, he continued his work on X-ray. In 1924, Siegbahn and his team was able to establish that just as light, X-rays are also refracted when they pass through a glass prism. It proved that X-rays too are electromagnetic radiation.
Later, he developed number of equipments which enabled him to make accurate measurements of the X-ray wavelengths. Moreover, he also developed a standard for naming the different spectral lines. The Siegbahn notation, which is used in X-ray spectroscopy to name the spectral lines that are characteristic to elements, was introduced by him.
In 1924–1925, he visited USA on the invitation of Rockefeller Foundation. There he gave lectures at renowned universities like Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Cornell, Chicago, Berkeley, Pasadena, Montreal etc.
In 1937, Siegbahn shifted to the University of Stockholm as Research Professor of Experimental Physics. Later in the same year, the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences created the Nobel Institute of Physics at Stockholm and Siegbahn was appointed as its first Director. He held both the positions concurrently.
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As the Professor of Physics, he continued his work on X-ray spectroscopy. Concurrently, he also initiated studies on nuclear physics and for that purpose had a large cyclotron and an electromagnetic separator built. As a provisional measure, he also had a high-tension generator for 400,000 volts built.
Once everything was organized and suitable methods were developed, he took up a number of important projects. Young scientists, both from Sweden and abroad, took part in these projects, studying the atomic nucleus and its radioactive properties under his guidance.
After Second World War, from 1946 to 1953, he visited the United States of America several times. This time he inspected the main nuclear research institutes like Berkeley, Pasadena, Los Angeles, St. Louis, Chicago, M.I.T. Boston, Brookhaven, Columbia, etc.
In 1964, Siegbahn retired as Professor of Experimental Physics, but continued in his post as the Director of the Nobel Institute of Physics till 1975.
He also served as a member of the International Committee on Weights and Measures from 1939 until 1964.
Personal Life & Legacy
Siegbahn married Karin Högbom in 1914. The couple had two children. Their elder son, Bo Siegbahn, later became a diplomat and politician; the younger son, Kai Siegbahn, became a physicist.
He died on 26 September 1978, in Stockholm, at the age of 91.
Siegbahn unit, the standard length used to describe the wavelengths of x-rays has been named after him as. He was also honored on a stamp issued by Guyana in 1995.
In 1988, the Noble Institute of Physics was renamed as Manne Siegbahn Institute.