Charles Glover Barkla

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Widnes, Lancashire
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Widnes, Lancashire

Charles Glover Barkla was a British physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1917 for discovering the element’s unique Röntgen radiation. He was born in Widnes, Lancashire, and excelled in school from the start. Sir Oliver Lodge was his professor at University College, Liverpool, where he studied physics. It’s probable that this is where his interest in radiation began. After completing his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from Liverpool, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, and began studying the velocity of electromagnetic waves under J.J. Thompson at the Cavendish Laboratory. He afterward returned to the University of Liverpool to complete his D.Sc. Following that, he worked at the same institute for four years, first as a demonstrator, then as an Assistant Lecturer, and eventually as a Full Professor. After that, he spent another four years at the University of London’s King’s College before joining the University of Edinburgh as Professor of Natural Philosophy, a position he held until his death. He established a solid reputation as an experimental physicist over time and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his work on X-rays.

Childhood and Adolescence

Glover, Charles Barkla was born on June 7, 1877, in Widnes, England, near Liverpool. His father, John Martin Barkla, was an Atlas Chemical Company secretary, and his mother, Sarah Glover, was a watchmaker’s daughter.
Barkla attended Liverpool Institute for his secondary studies. He began studying mathematics and physics at University College, Liverpool, in October 1894, with a County Council Scholarship and a Bibby Scholarship. Later, he focused on physics, studying it under Oliver Joseph Lodge, a physicist known for his work on electromagnetic radiation.

Charles Barkla earned his B.Sc. in physics with First Class honors in 1898. He finished his master’s degree at the same institute the following year. During this time, he was also the first president of the University Physical Society and occasionally substituted for Professor Lodge in classes.

Barkla attended Trinity College, Cambridge, in the autumn of 1899, after completing his master’s degree from the University of Liverpool. In the Cavendish Laboratory, he began studying the velocity of electromagnetic waves down wires of various widths and materials under the supervision of J. J. Thomson.

After a year and a half at Trinity, Barkla transferred to King’s College, Cambridge, in 1900. His main goal was to sing in the chapel choir. His solos filled the chapel with his baritone voice, which enchanted the audience.

His two-year scholarship was extended for another year in 1901. He won a choral scholarship the next year, but he opted to return to Liverpool. It is unknown if he got a Ph.D., however, J.J. Thomson is thought to have served as his doctoral advisor.

Career of Charles Glover Barkla

Charles Glover was born in the year 1902. As an Oliver Lodge Fellow, Barkla returned to the University of Liverpool and continued research on Röntgen radiation.

In June 1903, he demonstrated that all gases generate secondary radiation of the same wavelength as the initial beam, and that scattering is proportional to the atom’s mass.

Barkla continued his research on the subject in 1904, demonstrating that x-rays, like light, are a type of electromagnetic radiation. His work at the University of Liverpool earned him a Doctor of Science (D. Sc) degree at this time.

In 1905, he was hired as a demonstrator at the University of Liverpool, but after only a few years, he was promoted to Assistant Lecturer. Barkla and his colleagues utilized X-ray scattering to determine the number of electrons in the carbon atom in 1906.

He was promoted to Physics Lecturer in Advanced Electricity at the same institution in 1907. The position was designed expressly for him. Until 1909, he remained there.

Barkla became Wheatstone Professor of Physics at King’s College, University of London, in 1909, succeeding H. A. Wilson. He continued his X-ray research there, and by 1911, he had established himself as an internationally renowned physicist.

He became Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburg University in July 1913, a position he held until his death in 1944. He continued to work on the same issue while also taking on a number of administrative responsibilities.

Barkla was a driving force behind the establishment of honors degree programs in pure science at the University of Edinburgh. He worked very hard at the institute to establish a physics honors school. Throughout, he emulated the leadership style of his master, J.J. Thomson of Cavendish Laboratory.

From 1916 onwards, however, he grew increasingly alienated from the scientific community. That was largely due to the fact that he only cited his own work and based his theories solely on the phenomenon he had studied. His work on the ‘J-Phenomenon’ further added to his sense of isolation.

Major Projects of Charles Glover Barkla

The work of Charles Glover Barkla on X-ray scattering is his most well-known accomplishment. He established that X-ray scattering occurs when X-rays are deflected by atomic electrons as they pass through matter, beginning in 1903. This method proved especially effective in the investigation of atomic structures.

He also demonstrated, about 1906, that each element had its own secondary spectrum, regardless of temperature, structure, or chemical makeup. As a result, its spectrum was a distinguishing feature of an atom.

He later formulated the laws controlling the transmission of X-rays through matter, particularly the principles of secondary X-ray excitation. He also contributed significantly to X-ray spectroscopy.

Achievements & Awards

In 1912, he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and in 1914, he was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

The Royal Society of London designated him as a Bakerian Lecturer in 1916.
The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Charles Glover Barkla in 1917 “for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements.”

He received the Hughes Medal in 1917 “for his researches in the field of X-ray radiation.”

Personal History and Legacy

Barkla married Mary Esther Cowell in 1907. They had two sons and one daughter together. Flight Lieutenant Michael Barkla, the youngest of the group, was killed in action in 1943. Michael was also a superb scholar, and his premature death had a significant impact on Barkla.
At the age of 67, Charles Glover Barkla died on October 23, 1944, in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The lunar crater ‘Barkla,’ with a diameter of 42 kilometers and a location of 10.7° S, 67.2° E on the lunar surface, was named after him.

Estimated net worth

The estimated net worth of Charles Glover Barkla is unknown,