Manne Siegbahn Biography

Manne Siegbahn, a renowned Swedish physicist, made significant contributions to the field of X-ray spectroscopy. His groundbreaking work on X-ray emission spectra led to the discovery of the M series wavelengths. This achievement, along with his extensive research on X-ray spectroscopy, earned him the prestigious Nobel Prize in Physics in 1924. Throughout his career, Siegbahn held positions at various universities, including Lund and Uppsala, where he furthered his studies on X-rays and established their electromagnetic nature. Later, he became the first director of the Nobel Institute of Physics at the University of Stockholm, transforming it into a leading center for nuclear physics research. Today, the institute is known as the Manne Siegbahn Institute, attracting talented scientists from around the world.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn
  • Died At Age: 91
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Karin Högbom
    • Father: Nils Reinhold Georg Siegbahn
    • Mother: Emma Sofia Mathilda Zetterberg
    • Children: Bo Siegbahn, Kai Siegbahn
  • Physicists
  • Swedish Men
  • Died on: September 24, 1978
  • Place of death: Stockholm, Sweden
  • Notable Alumni: University Of Lund
  • Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics
  • More Facts
  • Education: University Of Lund
  • Awards:
    • Nobel Prize for Physics (1924)
    • Hughes Medal (1934)
    • Rumford Medal (1940)
    • Duddell Medal and Prize (1948)
    • ForMemRS (1954)

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 the 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.


Immediately after receiving his 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 at the same university.

In 1916, he discovered a new group of wavelengths in X-ray emission spectra, later known as the M series. He then focused on developing equipment and techniques for accurately determining the wavelengths of X-rays. When Professor Rydberg’s health began to fail, Siegbahn had to take his classes. After Rydberg’s death in 1920, Siegbahn was appointed as a full professor in his place.

In 1923, Siegbahn received an offer from the University of Uppsala, Sweden’s premier university at the time, and accepted it. At Uppsala, he continued his work on X-rays and made significant contributions. He established that X-rays, like light, are refracted when passing through a glass prism, proving that X-rays are also electromagnetic radiation. He also developed equipment for accurate measurements of X-ray wavelengths and introduced the Siegbahn notation for naming different spectral lines in X-ray spectroscopy.

In 1924-1925, Siegbahn visited the United States on the invitation of the Rockefeller Foundation, giving lectures at renowned universities. In 1937, he shifted to the University of Stockholm as Research Professor of Experimental Physics and became the first Director of the newly created Nobel Institute of Physics. He held both positions concurrently.

As a Professor of Physics, Siegbahn continued his work on X-ray spectroscopy and initiated studies on nuclear physics. He had a large cyclotron and an electromagnetic separator built for this purpose. He also had a high-tension generator built. Under his guidance, young scientists from Sweden and abroad studied the atomic nucleus and its radioactive properties.

After his retirement in 1964, Siegbahn continued as the Director of the Nobel Institute of Physics until 1975. He also served as a member of the International Committee on Weights and Measures from 1939 to 1964.

Major Works

Although Siegbahn worked on diverse fields, he is best remembered for his work on X-ray spectroscopy. He designed new instruments and developed new techniques that increased the accuracy of measurements and helped discover many new series within characteristic X-radiations.

Awards & Achievements

Manne Siegbahn received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1924 “for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy.” He also received other prestigious awards and honors, including the Hughes Medal, Rumford Medal, Duddell Medal and Prize, and honorary degrees from various universities.

Personal Life & Legacy

Siegbahn married Karin Högbom in 1914, and they had two children. Their elder son, Bo Siegbahn, became a diplomat and politician, while their younger son, Kai Siegbahn, became a physicist. Siegbahn passed away on 26 September 1978, in Stockholm, at the age of 91.

He was honored with the naming of the Siegbahn unit, the standard length used to describe the wavelengths of X-rays. In 1988, the Nobel Institute of Physics was renamed the Manne Siegbahn Institute. He was also featured on a stamp issued by Guyana in 1995.


In 1944, Siegbahn received a patent for the Siegbahn pump. His son, Kai Siegbahn, also received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1981 for his contribution to the development of X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy.

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