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Nobel Prize for Physics awarded to Manne Siegbahn among items in Science & Technology Auction
The 1924 Nobel Prize in Physics, awarded to Manne Siegbahn for his discoveries and research in X-ray spectroscopy (Estimate: $150,000+).

BOSTON, MASS.- The 1924 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Swedish physicist Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy will be auctioned by Boston-based RR Auction.

Includes the iconic Nobel Prize medal housed in its red leather case, and beautiful hand-illuminated diploma in its ornate blue morocco leather folder. This was an uncommon ‘reserved’ prize from 1924, presented to Siegbahn by the Nobel Foundation in 1925. In 1924, the Nobel Committee for Physics had decided that none of the nominees for the award met the criteria outlined in the will of Alfred Nobel, and subsequently granted the open prize to Siegbahn in the following year.

The medal, designed by Erik Lindberg and struck in 23K gold by the Swedish Royal Mint, measures 66 mm in diameter, and weighs 205 gm. The obverse features a bust portrait of Alfred Nobel facing left, inscribed with his name in relief, “Alfr. Nobel,” as well as his birth and death dates of 1833 and 1896, “Nat. MDCCCXXXIII, Ob. MDCCCXCVI.” Engraved in the lower left with the artist’s name and date, “E. Lindberg, 1902.” The reverse features an allegorical vignette of the figure of Science unveiling the face of Nature, with the Latin legend in relief above, “Inventas vitam iuvat excoluisse per artes.” The tablet at the bottom is engraved with the recipient’s name and date, “M. Siegbahn, MCMXXV.” The edge of the medal is marked “Guld 1925.” Housed in a dark red morocco leather case decorated with gilt dentelles.

The hand-illuminated diploma, executed by Swedish sculptor and artist Sofia Ginsberg, is on two vellum leaves housed inside a gorgeous blue morocco gilt folder. The text, in Swedish, reads (translated): “The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, at its meeting on November 12, 1925, in accordance with the provisions of the will of Alfred Nobel dated 27 November 1895, decided that the prize for 1924 be given away to that person who, within the field of physics, has made the most important discovery or invention: Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn for his Rontgen spectroscopic discoveries and research, Stockholm, 10 December 1925.” Signed at the conclusion by Nobel laureate Allvar Gullstrand as chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, and by Henrik Gustaf Söderbaum as secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Also signed in the lower left corner by the artist, Sofia Ginsberg. The beautiful pages are decorated with hand-drawn borders of green foliage incorporating gold medals; the ornate blue morocco leather folder is elaborately decorated with gilt dentelles with a wreath monogram centerpiece on the cover. Housed in a custom-made blue clamshell box.

Born in Örebro, Sweden, in 1886, Manne Siegbahn studied under Johannes Rydberg at Lund University, obtaining his doctorate in 1911 with a thesis on magnetic field measurements. He became acting professor at Lund University when Rydberg fell ill in 1913, and succeeded him as a full professor in 1920. Siegbahn’s studies in X-ray spectroscopy began in 1914, and he quickly improved upon Henry Moseley’s experimental apparatus which allowed him to take precise measurements of the X-ray wavelengths produced by atoms of different elements. Over the course of the next decade, Siegbahn’s development of new methods and designs had increased the accuracy of X-ray spectrometers by a factor of nearly 1000. Moreover, his studies led to a complete understanding of the electron shell, and produced a great deal of new knowledge about the elements themselves. In nominating Siegbahn for the Nobel Prize, fellow laureate Max von Laue had stressed that it was Siegbahn who had measured the wavelengths in the Rontgen spectrum with such precision that the scheme of Niels Bohr’s atomic theory could be used with full confidence—and Bohr had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922.

In Siegbahn’s Nobel Lecture, delivered on December 11, 1925, he eloquently recognized the broad importance of X-rays—just as they can reveal the human structure in medicine, they can reveal the inner workings of the atom in physics: ‘We all know that the discovery of X-rays provided the medical sciences with a new and invaluable working tool; and we must all be equally aware that recent developments in the study of X-rays have opened up new paths of investigation in various fields of natural sciences. The study of X-rays is not, however, motivated only by their application in the various sciences, X-rays provide us in addition with an insight into the phenomena within the bounds of the atom. All the information on what goes on in this field of physical phenomena is, so to speak, transmitted in the language of the X-rays; it is a language which we must master.’

Siegbahn's work drove many developments in quantum theory and atomic physics, laying the foundation for future Nobel Prizes—his son, Kai Siegbahn, built upon his efforts and made major strides in X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy, receiving the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics ’for his contribution to the development of high-resolution electron spectroscopy.’ (Estimate: $150,000+ )

“This remarkable medal for the Nobel Prize in Physics, with its gorgeous hand-painted diploma, represents a most significant achievement in the world of science,” said Bobby Livingston, Executive VP at RR Auction. “To our knowledge, it is the earliest Nobel Prize in Physics ever to be offered at auction.”

In addition to this historic Nobel Prize, RR Auction is proud bring over 300 significant Science & Technology items to the auction block. Among these are an A7L lunar boot created for Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission; important letters from James Watt, Louis Pasteur, Albert Einstein, and Werner Heisenberg; a Macworld magazine signed by Steve Jobs; a mathematical journal owned and signed by John Nash; and material chronicling the history of early aviation.

The Science and Technology Auction from RR Auction will begin December 6 and conclude December 13.

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