Charles Édouard Guillaume

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Charles Édouard Guillaume
Guillaume 1920.jpg
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

Charles Édouard Guillaume (15 February 1861, Fleurier, Switzerland – 13 May 1938, 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. In 1919, he gave the fifth Guthrie Lecture at the Institute of Physics in London with the title "The Anomaly of the Nickel-Steels".[1]

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.

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. [2]

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.[3]

Guillaume was head of the International Bureau of Weights and Measures.[3] He worked with Kristian Birkeland, serving at the Observatoire de Paris—Section de Meudon. He conducted several experiments with thermostatic measurements at the observatory. He was the first to determine accurately the temperature of space.

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


1922 pastel portraiture by Marie-Louise Catherine Breslau
  • Guillaume, Charles-Edouard (1896). "La Température de L'Espace (The Temperature of Space)". La Nature. 24. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16.
  • Guillaume, Charles-Edouard (1886). "Études thermométriques (Studies on Thermometry)".
  • Guillaume, Charles-Edouard (1889). "Traité de thermométrie (Treatise on Thermometry)".
  • Guillaume, Charles-Edouard (1894). "Unités et Étalons (Units and Standards)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1896). "Les rayons X (X-Rays)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1898). "Recherches sur le nickel et ses alliages (Investigations on Nickel and its Alloys)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1899). "La vie de la matière (The Life of Matter)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1902). "La Convention du Mètre et le Bureau international des Poids et Mesures (Metrical Convention and the International Bureau of Weights and Measures)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1904). "Les applications des aciers au nickel (Applications of Nickel-Steels)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1907). "Des états de la matière (States of Matter)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard (1913) [1907]. "Les récents progrès du système métrique (Recent progress in the Metric System)".
  • Guillaume, Charles Édouard. "Initiation à la Mécanique (Introduction to Mechanics)".


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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)
  3. ^ a b Gould, p.201.


  • Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921, " Charles-Edouard Guillaume – Biography". Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam.
  •, "History". Pioneers in the development of the Plasma Universe.
  • Rupert Thomas Gould, The Marine Chronometer: its history and development, Holland Press, 1960.

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