Charles Glover Barkla

Nobel Prize physicist, Chair in Natural Philosophy.

barkla plaque


Charles Glover Barkla was born in Widnes, Lancashire, in June 1877, educated in Liverpool, and studied maths and physics at University College, Liverpool, in 1894.

Graduating with a first class honours degree in physics in 1898, he went on to gain a masters degree the following year.

Charles Barkla lived in Hermitage House, which is set within the Hermitage of Braid and Blackford Hill Local Nature Reserve, from 1922 to 1938.  The house was built in 1785 and the style reflects the old Braid Castle thought to have been in what is now known as Midmar Paddock at the end of Hermitage Drive.


Over the next decade, Barkla progressed through a series of positions at Trinity College Cambridge, and King’s College and University Colleges in London.

He took up the Chair in Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh in 1913.

Barkla's research

Barkla's most significant research centred around the physics of X-rays.

Along with C A Sadler, he was the first to demonstrate that X-rays consist of waves oscillating in different planes that can be separated.

This discovery transformed understanding of X-rays, showing that they have similar properties to light and hence aided the development of the theory of Quantum Mechanics – one of the key planks of modern physics.

His most significant work was on the characteristic X-ray emitting properties of the chemical elements, which won him a Nobel Prize in 1917.

Nobel Prize

Barkla was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 1917 "for his discovery of the characteristic Röntgen radiation of the elements".

The Nobel Prize in Physics 1917

The plaque

Barkla family members, City of Edinburgh Council representatives, Hermitage of Braid friends and University colleagues attended an unveiling of a plaque located at Hermitage House, in the vicinity of the Canongate, to commemorate Noble Laureate Charles Barkla.