Bragg, Sir William

▪ British physicist
in full  Sir William Henry Bragg  
born July 2, 1862, Wigton, Cumberland, Eng.
died March 12, 1942, London
 pioneer British scientist in solid-state physics (solid) who was a joint winner (with his son Sir Lawrence Bragg (Bragg, Sir Lawrence)) of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915 for his research on the determination of crystal structures. He was knighted in 1920.

      William Bragg came on his father's side from a family without academic traditions, mainly yeoman farmers and merchant seamen. His mother was the daughter of the local vicar. Upon her death, when he was barely seven, he went to live with two paternal uncles who had set up a pharmacy and grocery shop in Market Harborough, Leicestershire. There he attended an old school reestablished by one of his uncles. He did well, and in 1875 his father sent him to school at King William College, Isle of Man. At first he found it difficult to adjust himself, but he was good at his lessons and at sports and finally became head boy. During his last year, however, the school was swept by a storm of religious emotionalism. The boys were frightened by the stories of hellfire and eternal damnation, and the experience left a strong mark on Bragg. Later he wrote, “It was a terrible year . . . for many years the Bible was a repelling book, which I shrank from reading.” And in a lecture, Science and Faith, at Cambridge in 1941, he said, “I am sure that I am not the only one to whom when young the literal interpretation of Biblical texts caused years of acute misery and fear.” On the other hand, he attributed his clear, balanced style of writing to his early grounding in the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible; in The World of Sound he wrote, “From religion comes a man's purpose; from science his power to achieve it.”

      In 1882 he was granted a scholarship at Trinity College, Cambridge; and two years later he obtained third place in the Mathematical Tripos (final examinations), a splendid achievement that led to his appointment, in 1885, as professor of mathematics and physics at the young University of Adelaide, S.Aus. He then not only trained himself to become a good, lucid lecturer but also apprenticed himself to a firm of instrument makers and made all the equipment he needed for practical laboratory teaching. It was this early training that enabled him, later (in 1912), after his return to England, to design the Bragg ionization spectrometer, the prototype of all modern X-ray and neutron diffractometers, with which he made the first exact measurements of X-ray wavelengths and crystal data.

      It was not until 1904, when Bragg became president of the physics section of the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, that he began to think about original research. His subsequent work on alpha, beta, and gamma rays led the renowned British physicist Ernest Rutherford to propose him for fellowship of the Royal Society. He was elected in 1907 and within a year was offered a professorship in Leeds, England, where he developed his view that both gamma rays and X rays (X-ray) have particle-like properties.

      In 1912 the German physicist Max von Laue announced that crystals could diffract X rays, thus implying that X rays (X-ray diffraction) must be waves like light but of much shorter wavelength. Bragg and his elder son, Lawrence, who was studying physics at Cambridge, then began to apply X rays to the study of crystal structure. These researches earned them jointly the award of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.

      After World War I, during which he worked on anti-submarine devices, Bragg established a school of crystallographic research at University College, London, and then, upon the death of the chemist and physicist Sir James Dewar, succeeded him as director of the Royal Institution and of the Davy Faraday Research Laboratories, London. To these institutions he attracted many young scientists whose researches he inspired and stimulated and who subsequently achieved fame. Bragg was also a popular scientific lecturer and writer. He gave “Christmas Lectures” for children, which, when published, became best-sellers. With Lady Bragg, he established a salon to which famous scientists came from far and wide. He was president of the Royal Society from 1935 to 1940 and received many other honours, but, to the last, he remained simple, gentle, and humble about his own success and proud of his son's.

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale

Additional Reading
G.M. Caroe, William Henry Bragg, 1862–1942: Man and Scientist (1978), written by his daughter, includes excerpts from Bragg's unpublished autobiography.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Bragg,Sir William Lawrence — See Bragg, Sir William Henry. * * * …   Universalium

  • BRAGG, Sir William Henry (1862-1942) — physicist son of Robert John Bragg, a sea captain who had become a farmer, and his wife Mary Wood, daughter of a clergyman, was born at Stoneraise Place, Wigton, Cumberland, on 2 July 1862. He was educated at King William s College, Isle of Man… …   Dictionary of Australian Biography

  • Bragg, Sir William (Henry) — (2 jul. 1862, Wigton, Cumberland, Inglaterra–12 mar. 1942, Londres). Científico británico, pionero de la física del estado sólido. Con su hijo (William) Lawrence Bragg (n. 1890–m. 1971) compartió en 1915 el Premio Nobel por su investigación en la …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Bragg , Sir William Henry — (1862–1942) British physicist Bragg s father was a merchant seaman turned farmer. William Henry Bragg was born in Westwood in England and educated at a variety of schools before going as a scholar to Cambridge University. He graduated in 1884 and …   Scientists

  • Bragg , Sir William Lawrence — (1890–1971) British physicist William Lawrence Bragg was the son of William Henry Bragg. Born in Adelaide, Australia, he was educated at the university there and at Cambridge University, where he became a fellow and lecturer. After the war, in… …   Scientists

  • Bragg, Sir William (Henry) — (b. July 2, 1862, Wigton, Cumberland, Eng. d. March 12, 1942, London) British scientist, a pioneer in solid state physics. With his son (William) Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971), he shared a 1915 Nobel Prize for research on the determination of… …   Universalium

  • Bragg, sir William Henry — ► (1862 1942) Físico británico. Fue premio Nobel de Física en 1915, compartido con su hijo William Lawrence, por sus trabajos con los rayos X sobre la estructura de los cristales …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Bragg, Sir Lawrence — ▪ British physicist in full  Sir William Lawrence Bragg  born March 31, 1890, Adelaide, S. Aus., Australia died July 1, 1971, Ipswich, Suffolk, Eng.  Australian born British physicist and X ray crystallographer, discoverer (1912) of the Bragg law …   Universalium

  • Sir William Henry Bragg — (* 2. Juli 1862 in Wigton; † 12. März 1942 in London) war ein britischer Physiker und Physik Nobelpreisträger. Inhaltsverzeichnis 1 Leben …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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