William Henry Bragg Biography

(Physicist and Mathematician Who Invented the ‘X-Ray’ Spectrometer)

Birthday: July 2, 1862 (Cancer)

Born In: Wigton, England, United Kingdom

Sir William Henry Bragg was a British scientist who shared the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics with his son, William Lawrence Bragg. The father-son duo won the Nobel Prize "for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays". William Henry Bragg was a multi-talented personality; he was a physicist, chemist, mathematician and active sportsman. He lost his mother at an early age and was raised by his uncle. He was a gifted student and went on to win a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge. After graduating from the Cambridge, he was worked as Professor of Mathematics and Physics in the University of Adelaide. After spending 23 years in Australia, he returned to England and joined the University of Leeds. During this period he collaborated with his son to conduct research on analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays, for which the father-son duo won the Nobel Prize. He also helped the British authorities during the First World War with detection of submarines. He won plenty of prizes and honours in his life and will certainly be counted amongst one of the finest scientists of the 20th century.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In July

Also Known As: Sir William Henry Bragg

Died At Age: 79


children: William Lawrence Bragg

Chemists Physicists

Died on: March 12, 1942

place of death: London, England, United Kingdom

Notable Alumni: King William's College, Grammar School

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Physics

More Facts

education: Trinity College, Cambridge, King William's College, Grammar School

awards: 1915 - Nobel Prize in Physics
1930 - Copley Medal
1916 - Rumford Medal

1936 - Faraday Medal
1939 - John J. Carty Award for the Advancement of Science

Childhood & Early Life
William Henry Bragg was born on July 2, 1862 in Wigton, England, to Robert John Bragg and his wife Mary Wood. His father was a farmer and also worked as a merchant marine officer.
His mother passed away when he was only seven years old and his uncle, also named William Bragg, took the responsibility of raising him. He moved to Market Harborough, Leicestershire, to live with his uncle. He studied at the Old Grammar School in Market Harborough and then at the King William’s College located in the Isle of Man.
After graduating from high school, he won a scholarship from Trinity College, Cambridge University and started studying there in 1881. He studied mathematics under the tutorship of Dr. E. J. Routh and graduated in 1884 as third wrangler, and was awarded a first class honours in the mathematical tripos in 1885.
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Following his graduation from University of Cambridge, the University of Adelaide in Australia appointed him as the Elder Professor of Mathematics and Experimental Physics in 1885. He took up the position the following year.
Gradually his interest in physics developed, particularly in the field of electromagnetism. He was greatly interested in new discovery of Wilhelm Röntgen, namely X-Rays. His friendship with Ernest Rutherford further developed his interest in the field.
In 1896, at a gathering of doctors, William Henry Bragg demonstrated that X-rays could be used to reveal structures that were otherwise invisible.
In 1904, he delivered an address in Dunedin, New Zealand for the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science on the theory of ionization of gases and his research on the subject bore fruit when his efforts led to a fellowship from the Royal Society of London. In the same year, he also published papers in relation to Alpha Rays and Ionization Curves of Radium.
During his time in Australia, he was also active in sports. He played golf, lawn tennis, lacrosse and chess. He helped establish the Adelaide University Lacrosse Club as well as the North Adelaide Lacrosse Club.
In 1908, after having spent 23 years in Australia, he returned to England. The following year he became the Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds.
The X-ray spectrometer was invented by Bragg during his time at the University of Leeds. Subsequently he collaborated with his son, William Lawrence Bragg, who at the time was engaged as a research scholar at Cambridge University, and established a new branch of study known as X-ray crystallography. In 1914, he became involved with the British war effort during the First World War by helping with submarine detection and four years later he became an advisor of the admiralty.
In 1915, he was appointed as the Quain Professor by the University College London but took up the appointment only after he had completed his duty in relation to the war effort. When he started work, his work was primarily based on crystal analysis.
In 1923, the Royal Institution made him the Fullerian professor in the field of chemistry and in the same year the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory made him their director.
Major Works
He along with his son, William Lawrence Bragg, invented the X-ray spectrometer, and the studies of the father-son duo led to the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays.
Awards & Achievements
He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1907 and 28 years later he was appointed as its president. He served as the president for five years. &He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with his son William Lawrence Bragg in 1915 for their research in relation to crystal analysis. In the same year, he won the Barnard Medal and the Matteucci Medal.
In 1916, he was awarded with the Rumford Medal.
He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1917 and three years later he was knighted.
He was awarded with the Copley Medal in 1930.
Personal Life & Legacy
William Henry Bragg married Gwendoline Todd in 1889. The couple had two sons, named William Lawrence and Robert, and a daughter named Gwendolen.
He died on March 10, 1942 in London, England, at the age of 79. The reasons behind his death are unknown.
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