Nobel Prize Award for Physics 1901 to 1903

About the Nobel Prize Award for Physics 1901 to 1903 including the scientists Curie and Roentgen, their works, and history.


1901 Wilhelm C. Roentgen (1845-1923), German.

Work: Discovery of X rays

Nobel Laureate: Born in Prussia near the Dutch border, Roentgen was a rather pampered only child who was a source of repeated disappointment to his parents. Unhappy that his son had refused to join him in his textile business, Friedrich Roentgen was grateful that at least Wilhelm had plans to attend college. Then at age 18 Wilhelm was expelled from a Dutch technical school for sketching a caricature of a teacher (a charge he denied). Although he studied hard on his own to pass the college entrance exams, he failed. Undaunted, he entered a Swiss school with an open admissions policy and graduated an engineer in 1869. Turning to physics, he soon joined one of his professors, August Kundt, in setting up an experimental laboratory. He taught physics at a number of Prussian universities, for no salary at first, but eventually landed a full professorship at Wurzburg. There in 1895 he discovered and named the X ray. His pet peeves were arrogant people, prudes, written examinations, and spiders.

Nobel Lore: In the balloting, Roentgen emerged the decisive winner from a crowded field of scientific heavyweights, including Marconi, Becquerel, and three other future Nobel laureates. The discovery of a ray which could penetrate clothing and the body received sensational play in the press and spawned all sorts of wild reports. A New York paper claimed that medical schools were using X rays to project whole pages of textbooks onto the brains of students. One researcher in France declared that he had photographed a man's soul. And a London firm began manufacturing what it called "X ray-proof underwear" to preserve decency from the lecherous eye of science.

1902 Hendrik A. Lorentz (1853-1928), Dutch

Peter Zeeman (1865-1943), Dutch

Work: Research into the influence of magnetism upon radiation

1903 Antoine H. Becquerel (1852-1908), French

Work: Discovery of radioactivity

Pierre Curie (1859-1906), French

Marie S. Curie (1867-1934), French (b. Poland)

Work: Research into the phenomena of radiation

Nobel Laureates: The son of a pioneer in the study of phosphorescence and the grandson of a pioneer in electrochemistry, Becquerel continued the scientific tradition of his family and followed his progenitors to the physics chair of the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Although he conducted a wide range of experiments, he is best remembered for his discovery that uranium salts emit rays which are similar to X rays.

Born in Warsaw, Marie Sklodowska met Pierre Curie while studying in Paris. The two scientists wed in 1895 and began research, separately at first, in his laboratory. Already Pierre had gained recognition for his discovery that any given substance will undergo magnetic changes when subjected to a certain temperature, that temperature now known as the Curie point. Together the Curies, building on Becquerel's work, isolated and determined the atomic weights and properties of the radioactive elements polonium (named after Marie's native country) and radium. Upon her husband's accidental death on the streets of Paris, Marie succeeded to his physics chair at the Sorbonne. She went on to win a Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1911.

Nobel Lore: When it came time to accept the prize, the Curies were so exhausted from their work that they could not make the 1,000-mi. trip to Stockholm. The French minister stood in for them. Marie treated the news of the award with insouciance. Writing to her brother back in Poland, she filled three paragraphs before getting around to informing him that she had won. As for Pierre, he just wished all the reporters and photographers would leave him to his work.

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Nobel Prize Award for Physics 1904 to 1911 »
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