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
Alma mater University College Liverpool
Trinity College, Cambridge
King's College, Cambridge
Known for X-ray scattering
X-ray spectroscopy
Awards Nobel Prize in Physics (1917)
Hughes Medal of the Royal Society
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Cambridge
University of Liverpool
King's College London
University of Edinburgh
Academic advisors J. J. Thomson
Oliver Lodge

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]


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 to 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 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] with whom he would have two sons and one daughter.

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 in 1913, a position that he held until his death.

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 honour 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 home town of Widnes was named in his honour, following a competition run by the local newspaper.[11]


  1. "Charles Glover Barkla - Biographical".
  2. Allen, H. S. (1947). "Charles Glover Barkla. 1877-1944". Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society. 5 (15): 341. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1947.0004. JSTOR 769087.
  3. Shampo, M. A.; Kyle, R. A. (1993). "Charles Barkla--Nobel Laureate". Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 68 (12): 1176. doi:10.1016/s0025-6196(12)60068-8. PMID 8246619.
  4. 1851 Royal Commission Archives
  5. "Barkla, Charles Glover (BRKL899CG)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  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. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 2014-01-03.
  11. "A gritter named Barkla" Physics World Archive, February 2012
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