Charles Édouard Guillaume

Charles Édouard Guillaume (15 February 1861, in Fleurier, Switzerland – 13 May 1938, in Sèvres, France) was a Swiss physicist who received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1920 in recognition of the service he had rendered to precision measurements in physics by his discovery of anomalies in nickel steel alloys.[1] In 1919, he gave the fifth Guthrie Lecture at the Institute of Physics in London with the title "The Anomaly of the Nickel-Steels".[2]

Charles Édouard Guillaume
Born(1861-02-15)15 February 1861
Fleurier, Switzerland
Died13 May 1938(1938-05-13) (aged 77)
Sèvres, France
Alma materETH Zurich
Known forInvar and Elinvar
AwardsJohn Scott Medal (1914)
Nobel Prize in Physics (1920)
Duddell Medal and Prize (1928)
Scientific career
InstitutionsBureau International des Poids et Mesures, Sèvres

Personal life

Charles-Edouard Guillaume was born in Fleurier, Switzerland, on February 15, 1861.[3] Guillaume received his early education in Neuchâtel, and obtained a doctoral degree in Physics at ETH Zurich in 1883.[3][4]

Guillaume was married in 1888 to A.M. Taufflieb, with whom he had three children. [3]

Scientific career

Guillaume was head of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.[5][6] He also worked with Kristian Birkeland, serving at the Observatoire de Paris—Section de Meudon. He conducted several experiments with thermostatic measurements at the observatory.

Nickel-steel alloy

Guillaume is known for his discovery of nickel-steel alloys he named invar and elinvar. Invar has a near-zero coefficient of thermal expansion, making it useful in constructing precision instruments whose dimensions need to remain constant in spite of varying temperature. Elinvar has a near-zero thermal coefficient of the modulus of elasticity, making it useful in constructing instruments with springs that need to be unaffected by varying temperature, such as the marine chronometer. Elinvar is also non-magnetic, which is a secondary useful property for antimagnetic watches.

Space radiation

Guillaume is also known for the earliest estimation of the "radiation of the stars” in his 1896 paper "La Température de L'Espace (The Temperature of Space)". This is the first known reference to the concept that would later be known as the Cosmic Microwave Background.[7] He was one of the first people in history to estimate the temperature of space, as 5-6K.[8]


As the son of a Swiss horologist, Guillaume took an interest in marine chronometers. For use as the compensation balance he developed a slight variation of the invar alloy which had a negative quadratic coefficient of expansion. The purpose of doing this was to eliminate the "middle temperature" error of the balance wheel.[5] The Guillaume Balance (a type of balance wheel) in horology is named after him.[9][10]


  • 1896: "La Température de L'Espace (The Temperature of Space)". La Nature. 24. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16.
  • 1886: "Études thermométriques (Studies on Thermometry)". 1886. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • 1889: Traité de thermométrie de Precision (Treatise on Thermometry) via Internet Archive
  • 1894: Unités et Étalons (Units and Standards)
  • 1896: Les rayons X et la Photographie a traves les corps opaques (X-Rays) via Internet Archive
  • 1898: "Recherches sur le nickel et ses alliages (Investigations on Nickel and its Alloys)". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • 1899: "La vie de la matière (The Life of Matter)". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • 1902: "La Convention du Mètre et le Bureau international des Poids et Mesures (Metrical Convention and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures)". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • 1904: Les applications des aciers au nickel (Applications of Nickel-Steels) via Internet Archive
  • 1907: "Des états de la matière (States of Matter)". 1907. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • 1909: Initiation à la Mécanique (Introduction to Mechanics) Hathi Trust record
  • 1913: [1907] Les récents progrès du système métrique (Recent progress in the Metric System)


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1920". Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  2. Charles Edouard Guillaume (1919). "The Anomaly of the Nickel-Steels". Proceedings of the Physical Society of London. 32: 374–404. Bibcode:1919PPSL...32..374E. doi:10.1088/1478-7814/32/1/337. ISSN 1478-7814.
  3. "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1920". Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  4. "Guillaume, Ch.-Ed. (Charles-Edouard), 1861-". Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  5. Gould, p.201.
  6. "Charles-Edouard Guillaume - Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie". Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  7. Guillaume, C.-É., 1896, La Nature 24, series 2, p. 234, cited in "History of the 2.7 K Temperature Prior to Penzias and Wilson" (PDF)
  8. Guillaume, C.-É., 1896, La Nature 24, series 2, p. 234, cited in "History of the 2.7 K Temperature Prior to Penzias and Wilson" (PDF)
  9. "Phillips: CH080217, Patek Philippe". Phillips. Retrieved 2019-02-27.
  10. Bond, Alexander Russell (1921). Scientific American Monthly.


Further reading

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