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Sir Lawrence Bragg
(William Larence Bragg)
mathematician, physicist, Nobel Laureate
31st March 1890 - 1st July 1971

 

Lawrence Bragg at the age of 25 remains the youngest-ever recipient of the Nobel Prize for science.

He was born in Adelaide, where his father was Professor of Mathematics and Physics at the University of Adelaide. He later studied at the same university where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in mathematics at the age of 19. (The physics tradition at the University of Adelaide was later to be continued by Sir Marcus Oliphant and Paul Davies.)

The years around 1915 were exciting ones in physics. Major developments and discoveries were happening at an astonishing rate.. In 1912, Max von Laue had performed ground-breaking work on the diffraction of X- rays by crystals. Soon afterwards, Lawrence decided that X-rays had a dual wave/particle nature - one of the most significant concepts in 20th century physics. In 1915, Lawrence Bragg and his father, Sir William Henry Bragg, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. In 1916, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity. In 1917, Barkla received the Nobel Prize for his work on the of X-rays.

Father and son won the prize for their work on X-ray crystallography, extending on the work of von Laue. By mathematically analysing (extremely laborious in those pre-computer times) the way that X-rays were affected when aimed at certain substances, they were able to deduce their crystal structure. Understanding the crystal structure of a substance is particularly important in helping predict how that substance will behave under different circumstances. For instance , they found that common salt (Sodium Chloride) did not exist as individual single molecules, but in a regular lattice (crystal) structure with alternating atoms of Sodium and Chlorine.

For a number of years, father and son had a fruitful working relationship, but eventually they went their different ways.

Lawrence's full name was William Lawrence Bragg, but to avoid confusion with his father, particularly after they were both knighted, he became known as Lawrence. He was later to work with Crick and Watson to help reveal the structure of DNA. Hence he was important to scientific work at either end of the century.

Lawrence Bragg was born in Adelaide in 1890 and was knighted in 1941. He worked at Victoria University, Manchester and the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, and was director of the Royal Institution.

Fifty years after receiving the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Institute invited him to give the inaugural Nobel Guest Lecture in 1965.

"The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them."
Sir Lawrence Bragg

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