Bragg | Sir | William Lawrence | 1890-1971 | physicist

Biographical Information

Occupation, Sphere of Activity

William Lawrence Bragg was educated at first in Australia at the University of Adelaide, where he took his degree in mathematics with first class honours. He then moved to England where he entered Trinity College, Cambridge as an Allen Scholar, taking first-class honours in the Natural Science Tripos in 1912. In the autumn of that year Bragg began his examination of the von Laue phenomenon and published his first paper on the subject. In 1914 he was appointed as fellow and lecturer in Natural Sciences at Trinity College. Later that year he and his father were awarded the Barnard Gold Medal of the U.S. Academy of Sciences, the first of many such honours. From 1912-1914 he had been working with his father, Sir William Henry Bragg (1862-1942) in the study of X-ray diffraction, the results of which were published in an abridged version in X-rays and Crystal Structure (1915). As a consequence of the Braggs' research, the structures of many kinds of crystals were discovered with the aid of the X-ray spectrometer. It was for this work that the Braggs were jointly awarded the Nobel prize for physics in 1915.

From 1915-1919, during World War I, Bragg served as technical adviser on sound ranging in the map section of British army headquarters in France, calculating the distance of enemy artillerey from the sound of their guns. After the war Bragg succeeded Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) as Langworthy professor of physics at Victoria University of Manchester, and it was here that he built his first school of research for the study of metals, alloys and silicates. From 1937-1938 Bragg was director of the National Physical Laboratory, but he did not enjoy committee work and so was very grateful when he was again able to succeed Rutherford and become the Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge. Here he was able to found a second research school to study alloys, metals, proteins and silicates. In 1954 he became director of the Royal Institution as his father had been before him in 1940, introducing many innovative science courses.



Other Significant Information

Notable publications:

X-rays and Crystal Structure, ( 1915)

The Crystalline State, ( 1934)

The Structure of Silicates, ( 1930)

Electricity, ( 1936)

Atomic Structure of Minerals, ( 1937)

Crystal Structures of Minerals, ( 1965)

Honours, Qualifications and Appointments

1914: Awarded Barnard Medal

1915: Awarded Nobel prize for Physics

1921: Elected Fellow, Royal Society

1931: Awarded Hughes Medal, Royal Society

1941: Awarded knighthood

1946: Awarded Royal Medal, Royal Society

1948: Awarded Roebling Medal, Mineral Society of America

Elected Honorary foreign member, American Scientific Academy

Elected Honorary foreign member, Belgian Scientific Academy

Elected Honorary foreign member, Chinese Scientific Academy

Elected Honorary foreign member, Dutch Scientific Academy

Elected Honorary foreign member, French Scientific Academy

Elected Honorary foreign member, Swedish Scientific Academy


List of sources for the biographical information:

Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. 4, ( London, William Benton, 1964)

Who's Who 1968-1969, ( Great Britain, A and C Black Ltd, 1968)

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, From Earliest Times to 1985, vol. i , (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition: Bragg, Sir William Lawrence, (, 2001), (, 1999-2000)

The Nobel Foundation, (, 2001)