Edwin Henry Barton was born in Nottingham in 1858. Although an enthusiastic scholar from a young age, his family's financial situation compelled him to leave school early and earn a living. The opening of University College, Nottingham, in 1881, provided him with the opportunity to study at evening classes, and during the next few years he passed both the London Matriculation and the Intermediate Science examinations. Encouraged by these successes he abandoned his employment as a draughtsman, using his savings to enrol as a full time student at the University College. In just one year he obtained a Physics degree with Honours.
In 1891 he applied for and received an '1851 Exhibition' Scholarship, and began the research work that was to form a fundamental part of his life and career. He first worked under the direction of Professor Rucker at the Royal College of Science, London, and subsequently under Professor Hertz at the University of Bonn.
Barton returned to England in 1893 and took up a position as Junior Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Physics, University College, Nottingham. In 1894 he obtained his Doctorate from the University of London, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer at Nottingham in the following year. From 1906 until his death in 1925 he held the Chair of Experimental Physics.
Professor Barton undertook research on a number of subjects, but was best known for his work upon acoustic and mechanical vibrations. He published a large number of books and articles, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1916.