Alfred Fowler

Alfred Fowler


Date of Birth
March 22, 1868
Date of Death
December 24, 1940

At 14 Alfred Fowler won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, later part of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, in South Kensington, London. He remained there until retirement, first as a student, later as assistant to pioneer spectroscopist Norman Lockyer, ultimately as professor of astrophysics. After 1923 he was Yarrow Professor of the Royal Society. Fowler became a master of spectroscopy. He found that sunspots are cooler than their surroundings, a discovery made at about the same time by G.E. Hale and his colleagues. He made six eclipse expeditions and photographed the spectrum of the solar chromosphere and corona. Making precise wavelength measurements in the laboratory, he identified titanium oxide in cool stars, magnesium hydride in sunspots, carbon monoxide in comets, and ozone in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. When the Bohr theory of the atom appeared he made contributions to atomic physics, identifying the spectrum of ionized helium and providing data which determined the value of the Rydberg constant and the proton-electron mass ratio. Fowler was a successful teacher and a leader in national and international astronomy.

Presentation of Bruce medal

Hubble, E.P.PASP 46, 87-93 (1934).

Other awards

National Academy of Sciences, Henry Draper Medal, 1920.
French Academy of Sciences, Valz prize, 1913.
Royal Astronomical Society, Gold medal, 1915, presented by E.H. Hills, MNRAS 75, 355-62 (1915).
Royal Society, Royal medal, 1918.

Some offices held

International Astronomical Union, General Secretary, 1919-25.
Royal Astronomical Society, President, 1919-21.

Biographical materials

Dingle, Herbert, Dictionary of Scientific Biography 5, 101-02.
S[tratton], F.J.M., “Professor Alfred Fowler” [ on his retirement], Observatory 57, 317-19 (1934).
Tenn, Joseph S., “Alfred Fowler: The Twenty-Ninth Bruce Medalist,” Mercury 24, 5, 36 (1995).


Dingle, Herbert, Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society 3, 483-97 (1941).
Dingle, Herbert, Observatory 63, 262-67 (1940).
Gale, Henry G., H.N. RussellWalter S. Adams, & W.H. Wright, Ap.J. 94, 1-4 (1941).
Plummer, H.C., MNRAS 101, 132-35 (1941).
More obituaries


AIP Center for History of Physics

Named after him

Lunar crater Fowler
Minor Planet #11765 Alfredfowler


Papers, etc.

Papers (very few) are at Imperial College, London (details). There are many letters in the library of the Royal Astronomical Society and the Royal Observatory Library.

Other References: Historical

Clerke, Agnes M., Alfred Fowler, & J. Ellard Gord, The Concise Knowledge Astronomy (Hutchinson, London, 1900).

Dingle, Herbert, “A Hundred Years of Spectroscopy,” British Journal for the History of Science 1, 199-216 (1963).

Dreyer, J.L.E. & H.H. Turner, eds. History of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1820-1920 (Royal Astronomical Society, London, 1923).

Fowler, A., “Report of the Meeting of the Association Held on Wednesday, May 29, 1918, at Sion College, Victoria Embankment, E.C.,” Journal of the British Astronomical Association 28, 197-204 (1918).

Fowler, A., “Memories of Sir Norman Lockyer,” in Life and Work of Sir Norman Lockyer by T. Mary & Winifred L. Lockyer (Macmillan, London, 1928), pp. 453-62.

Fowler, A., “Astrophysics at the Royal College of Science,” Nature 134, 634-35 (1934).

Fowler, Michael, From Bohr’s Atom to Electron Waves

Robotti, Nadia, “the Spectrum of Zeta Puppis and the Historical Evolution of Empirical Data,” Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 14, pt. 1, 123-145 (1983).

Wilkins, George A., “Sir Norman Lockyer’s Contributions to Science,” QJRAS 35, 51-57 (1994).

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Other References: Scientific

Note: Many of Fowler’s early contributions appeared under the name of his employer, J. Norman Lockyer.

Fowler, A., “Variable Stars and the Constitution of the Sun,” Nature 39, 606 (1889).

Fowler, A., “Preliminary Note on the Duplicity of a Lyrae,” MNRAS 51, 8-11 (1890).

Fowler, A., “The Unknown in Astronomical Spectroscopy,” Observatory 23, 212-14 (1900).

Fowler, A., “The Effects of Stellar Rotation upon Spectrum Lines,” MNRAS 60, 579-86 (1900).

Fowler, A. & H. Shaw, “On Formulae for Spectrum Series,” Ap.J. 18, 21-32 (1903).

Fowler, A., “The Spectra of Antarian Stars in Relation to the Fluted Spectrum of Titanium,” MNRAS 64, 16-21A (1903).

Fowler, A., “Observations of the Spectra of Sun-Spots, Regions C to D,” MNRAS 65, 205-18 (1905).

Fowler, A., “High-Level Chromospheric Lines and Their Behaviour in Sun-Spot Spectra,” MNRAS 66, 361-671 (1906).

Fowler, A., “The Origin of Certain Bands in the Spectra of Sun-Spots,” MNRAS 67, 530-34 (1907).

Fowler, A. & A. Eagle, “The Reproduction of Prismatic Spectrum Photographs on a Uniform Scale of Wave-Lengths, ” Ap.J. 28, 284-91 (1908).

Fowler, A., “Spectroscopic Comparison of Omicron Ceti with Titanium Oxide,” MNRAS 69, 508-10 (1909).

Fowler, A., “Spectra of the Tails of Recent Comets,” MNRAS 70, 179-82 (1909).

Fowler, A., “Investigations Relating to the Spectra of Comets,” MNRAS 70, 484-96 (1910).

Fowler, A., “The Equipment of the Spectroscopic Laboratory of the Imperial College of Science and Technology,” Proc. Phys. Soc. London 24, 168-171 (1911).

Fowler, A., “Observations of the Principal and Other Series of Lines in the Spectrum of Hydrogen,” MNRAS 73, 62-71 (1912).

Fowler, A., “Some Problems of Astronomy. IV Solar and Stellar Photospheres,” Observatory 36, 182-85 (1913).

Fowler, A., “The Partial Eclipse of the Sun, 1914 August 20-21, Observed at South Kensington,” MNRAS 75, 24-30 (1914).

Fowler, A., E.H. Hills, & W.E. Curtis, “The Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1914 August 21—Report on the Kiev Expedition,” MNRAS 75, 117-25 (1915).

Fowler, A., “Enhanced Lines of Nitrogen in the Region Hβ to Hε MNRAS 80, 692-96A (1920).

Fowler, Alfred, Report on Series in Line Spectra (Fleetway Press, London, 1922).

Fowler, Alfred, “The Spectra of Silicon at Successive Stages of Ionization,” (Bakerian Lecture, summary), Observatory 47, 216-17 (1924).

Fowler, A., “Spectroscopy in Industry,” Journal of Scientific Instruments 14, 153-161 (1937).

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Other Works: Popularizations, Fiction, etc.

Fowler, A., “The Origin of Spectra,” JRASC 18, 373-80 (1924).