Henry Moseley

How Mankind Lost One Of The Greatest Scientific Minds In World War I?

War always leads to mass destruction of life and property. It not only separates people from their exorbitant materialistic belongings but also claims countless invaluable lives. Over the years, wars have affected people belonging to different spheres of life and eventually, even the scientific community has not remained untouched by its wrath. And, one such example of a brilliant intellect, who became a victim of war at a tender age of 27 years is that of Henry Moseley.

Had he not been shot and killed during the Battle of Gallipoli on August 10, 1915, he might have won the 1916 Nobel Prize in Physics (according to the speculations made by experts). So today, on his 105th anniversary of the death, let’s find out who Henry Moseley was and how he contributed significantly to the scientific world even in his short yet exceptional lifetime!

Henry Moseley
Image courtesy: famousscientists.org

A Scientific Ancestry & Academic Achievements:

Born on November 23, 1887, in the town of Weymouth, Dorsey, Henry belonged to a family of scientists. Moseley’s father was a well-known biologist at the University of Oxford while his maternal grandfather, John Gwyn Jeffreys, was a biologist and both of them were also the fellows of the Royal Society. Born in an intellectual family, Henry proved to be a child prodigy as expected. He showed remarkable signs of intelligence during his days at the Summer Fields School.

Watch the first episode of ‘Stories of the Great Minds’ featuring S.N. Bose, father of the God particle:

Due to his excellent grades, Henry Moseley won a place at the iconic ‘Eton College’. He turned out to be one of the brightest students at Eton and in 1906 he was bestowed with numerous prizes in physics and chemistry. In 1906, Moseley secured a place at the ‘University of Oxford’ to study physics at ‘Trinity College’, which is regarded as one of the best colleges at the world-famous university.

Scientific Contributions Made By Moseley :

After graduating from the Trinity College, Moseley got appointed as a lecturer in physics at Ernest Rutherford’s laboratory at the University of Manchester, where he worked until the outbreak of World War I. There, he made some significant contributions to fields of chemistry and physics. Initially, Moseley worked extensively in the field of radioactivity. Soon, he shifted his focus to the study of the X-ray spectra of elements. And, this is where he made one of the most astonishing discoveries of his life.

Henry Moseley at the University of Oxford’s Balliol-Trinity Laboratories, 1910
Image courtesy: History of Science Museum, University of Oxford
Henry Moseley at the University of Oxford’s Balliol-Trinity Laboratories, 1910
Image courtesy: History of Science Museum, University of Oxford

While conducting a series of experiments, he found a relationship between the frequencies of lines corresponding to different elements in the X-ray spectra. In 1913, he reported that the frequencies are proportional to the squares of whole numbers that are equal to the atomic number plus a constant. This relation later came to be known as Moseley’s law. Moseley’s law advanced atomic physics, nuclear physics, and quantum physics by providing the first experimental evidence in favor of Niels Bohr’s theory and is still considered a milestone in advancing the knowledge of the atom.

Moseley's Law
Moseley’s law

Apart from these, Moseley also contributed to the periodic table by predicting some of the missing elements. He was the one who experimentally demonstrated the fact that the major properties of an element are determined by the atomic number and not by the atomic weight, and went on to firmly establishing the relationship between atomic number and the charge of the atomic nucleus.

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A true patriot :

In the first half of 1914, Moseley resigned from his position at Manchester and had planned to return to Oxford to continue physics research there. But, destiny had some other plans for him. World War I broke out in August 1914, and Moseley, a patriot as he was, turned down this job offer and instead enlisted himself with the Royal Engineers of the British Army. 

Although his family and friends tried to persuade him not to join, he was firm in his decision as he thought that it was his primary duty to serve the nation. So, Moseley served as a technical officer in communications during the Battle of Gallipoli, in Turkey, where he was killed on 10 August 1915. Moseley was shot in the head by a Turkish sniper while in the act of telephoning a military order, thus ending an era of a scientific mind that could have come up with some mind-boggling discoveries in the years to come.

After Moseley’s death, many personalities of big repute condemned this act. Several voices were raised and as a result, the British Government later placed a ban on other scientists of repute serving in front-line roles. In 1916, no Nobel Prizes were awarded in physics or chemistry. There is a strong scientific belief that Henry Moseley, had he been alive, would have received one of these awards. Although Moseley left the world at a young age of 27, his works will continue to serve mankind till eternity!

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2 thoughts on “How Mankind Lost One Of The Greatest Scientific Minds In World War I?”

  1. Excellent writing ma’am.I will translate it into Bengali and publish in any Bengali science magazine.It was really a great writing indeed.

  2. Pingback: How Ole Roemer Calculated The Speed Of Light?

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