3 - Bragg, William Lawrence

Date Range31 March 1890 - 1 July 1971
Related Provenance
ParentBragg, William Henry (1862 - 1942)

William Lawrence Bragg, widely known as Lawrence Bragg, was born in Adelaide, 31 March 1890, and was educated at St Dominic’s Priory School and Queen's School, followed by St. Peter’s College. He was brilliant at mathematics and languages and was promoted well ahead of his age group. Lawrence entered the University of Adelaide aged only 15. He enrolled for honours in 1908 and graduated B.A with first-class honours in Mathematics. He took to solitary pursuits such as shell collecting and discovered a new cuttlefish, Sepia braggi, at Glenelg.

Following his father William Henry Bragg’s appointment to the University of Leeds in 1909, Lawrence moved with the rest of his family to the UK. He entered Trinity College, Cambridge, to study mathematics and then physics, completing his degree with first-class honours. Home for summer holidays, he discussed with his father the new German experiments that showed that X-rays could be diffracted by a crystal: a wave phenomenon. They tried unsuccessfully to explain the result with his father's particle X-ray model. Back in Cambridge, Lawrence correctly explained the German results and enunciated 'Bragg’s Law', while his father developed a spectrometer which Lawrence was able to use to determine simple crystal structures.

From mid-1913 Lawrence worked together with his father to determine the structure of diamonds and other crystals. Lawrence found Cambridge facilities inadequate and, as John Jenkin highlights, his father was receiving most of the credit for their discoveries; nevertheless, he pushed on. In 1914 he was appointed lecturer and fellow of Trinity College. During the First World War Lawrence was sent to France to develop British sound-ranging, the location of German guns by recording the sound of their firings. In 1915 he was notified that he had won the Nobel Prize for Physics, together with his father, William Henry Bragg, for their invention of X-ray crystallography.

After the war Lawrence returned to Cambridge but was soon appointed to the Langworthy Professorship of Physics at Manchester. In 1921 Lawrence was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, and in December married Alice Hopkinson after her Cambridge graduation.

Throughout the rest of his life, Lawrence continued to be a prominent figure in English science, holding a number of positions, including the Directorship of the National Physical Laboratory and the Cavendish Chair at Cambridge, hwere he led an especially successful group in determining the structure of complex proteins, notably DNA and haemoglobin. He was also appointed Director of the Royal Institution in 1953, where he was particularly successful in communicating science to young people. William Lawrence Bragg died, aged 81, in July 1971.

31 March 1890Born in Adelaide
1906 - 1907Discovers a new cuttlefish, Sepia Braggi
1908Graduates from the University of Adelaide (B.A.)
1909The Bragg family depart Australia for the UK
1912Graduates from the University of Cambridge (M.A.)
September 1915Brother, Robert Charles Bragg killed at Gallipoli
November 1915Awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics with his father, William Henry Bragg
1916 - 1917Awarded O.B.E. and M.C.
1919 - 1937Langworthy Professorship of Physics at Manchester
1921Elected a fellow of the Royal Society
December 1921Marries Alice Hopkinson
1923 - 1935Two sons and two daughters born
September 1929Mother, Gwendoline Bragg dies
1931Awarded the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society and becomes a member of its Council
1939 - 1953Cavendish Chair at Cambridge
1939 - 1943President of the Institute of Physics
10 March 1942Father, William Henry Bragg dies
1953 - 1965Director of the Royal Institution
1965Celebrations in London and Stockholm for the 50th anniversary of William Lawrence Bragg's Nobel Prize
1966 - 1967Awarded the Copley Medal of the Royal Society and then made a Companion of Honour (C.H.)
1 July 1971Dies, aged 81
April 1989Alice Bragg dies after a lifetime of public service
ReferencesBRAG00073, "A Chronology: William Henry Bragg (1862-1942) and William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971)" by John Jenkin, in the publication to accompany the exhibition "Bragg about Adelaide" at the South Australian Museum, 2005, Series 2, John Jenkin's William H. Bragg and William L. (Lawrence) Bragg Research Collection, Barr Smith Library, The University of Adelaide, Australia.

Published by the The University of Melbourne eScholarship Research Centre on AustehcWeb, September 2010
Listed by Melissa Downing and Michael Jones
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Updated 12 June 2013

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