Robert Thalén (1827 - 1905)

Robert ThalénAstronomer and physicist Robert Thalén was primarily a technical specialist and precision measurer. Together with Anders Ångström he built up a world-leading research programme for experimental physics in Uppsala that achieved great success in the field of spectroscopy.

As ”docent” (Associate Professor) in astronomy during the 1850s, Robert Thalén visited observatories in Europe in the hope of being able to work with the astronomical instruments, his great interest. But at the Paris observatory, the main goal of the journey, he was only allowed to look at the instruments, not to touch them, and he felt rejected. One of the aims of the trip was to purchase instruments for the Professor of Physics Anders Ångström and this collaboration resulted in Thalén changing his focus of research to physics.

Success with technology-heavy research

Thalén’s early research focused on electricity and magnetism, but Ångström fired his interest in spectroscopy. Together they established a successful technique-oriented research programme. Thalén made many of the precision measurements that formed the basis of Ångström’s scientific reputation, but over time he himself became a noted authority.

In 1873, Thalén was appointed to a newly established professorship of mechanics. The following year, Ångström passed away unexpectedly and Thalén took over the professorship of experimental physics, his real home turf.

The struggle for laboratory places

As Professor, Thalén continued to develop better laboratory teaching. There was great interest from the students and consequently a shortage of space and equipment. The students accused Thalén of favouring his favourite pupil Knut Ångström, the son of his late colleague. This became a source of recurring conflicts.

1856               Associate Professor of Astronomy at Uppsala University
1869-1879      Acting Professor of Physics at the Technological Institute in Stockholm
1873-1874      Professor of Mechanics at Uppsala University
1874-1896      Professor of Physics at Uppsala University