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Bragg, Sir William Lawrence (1890-1971)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0116 William Lawrence Bragg Collection
Held at: Royal Institution of Great Britain
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Full title: Bragg, Sir William Lawrence (1890-1971)
Date(s): 1888-1971
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 18.30 metres
Name of creator(s): Bragg, Sir William Lawrence, 1890-1971. Knight. Physicist.


Administrative/Biographical history:

William Lawrence Bragg was born the son of William Henry Bragg, physicist and Gwendoline Todd, in Adelaide, Australia, in 1890. As a child, he attended Queen's preparatory school and St Peter's College in Adelaide. He went to the University of Adelaide at the age of 15 in order to study mathematics and graduated in 1908 in physics and chemistry. In 1909 he came to England with his family and went to study at Cambridge. In 1910 he gained first class honours in part one of the mathematical Tripos and subsequently gained a first in part two of the physics Tripos in 1912. In 1914 he became a Fellow and lecturer in Natural Sciences at Trinity College Cambridge. He began researching under J. J. Thomson and worked on the reflection of x-ray waves by planes of atoms in crystals, in order to reveal the position of atoms thus developing crystal analysis. The relationship between the angle of incidence and wavelength, and between parallel atomic planes is known as `Bragg's Angle' or `Bragg's Law'. He worked on crystal structure and its arrangement in sodium and potassium. He also worked with his father, William Henry Bragg, particularly on the structure of diamond, resulting in a joint publication in 1915 called X-Rays and Crystal Structure. It was for this work with his father that he jointly won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1915, and at 25 years old, he remains the youngest ever winner of the Nobel Prize. During the First World War and until 1919, William Lawrence (he was known as Lawrence in order to distinguish him from his father) primarily served in the Royal Horse Artillery until he became Technical Adviser to the Map Section in order to research into sound ranging to locate enemy guns. In 1919 he became Langworthy Professor of Physics at the University of Manchester, a position he held until 1937. He set up the School of Crystallography at Manchester and introduced the study of atomic radii, x-ray diffraction, scattering atoms, analysing structures, branch of optics, order-disorder changes and metals, alloys and silicate. He developed quantitative crystallography and worked on the structure of minerals and later, protein. In 1921 he married Alice Hopkins and they had four children, Stephen Lawrence, David William, Margaret Alice and Patience Mary. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1921. In 1937 he became Director of the National Physics Laboratory, but only until 1938 when he became Cavendish Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Cambridge. He held this position until 1953 having reorganised the Cavendish Laboratory into separate branches of physics. It was split into nuclear physics, low temperature physics, radio physics, crystallography and metal physics. Whilst at Cambridge, he realised the potential of using crystal analysis on living cells, after Max Perutz had shown him an x-ray photograph of haemoglobin. In the Second World War, Lawrence became a consultant to the sound ranging section of the army, and also to the Admiralty on underwater detection using sound waves (known as asdic or sonar). He was also on the Ministry of Supply Committee and assisted the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. In 1941 he went to Ottawa, Canada as a scientific liaison officer for the war effort. In 1941 he was knighted. From 1939 to 1943, he was President of the Institute of Physics, whereby he promoted x-ray research and also became the first President of the International Union of Crystallography. In 1947 he helped set up what became the Medical Research Council Laboratory of molecular biology at the Cavendish laboratory, Cambridge. Under his direction, Francis Crick and James Watson determined the double helix structure of DNA. In 1953 he became Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI). In 1954 he became Director of the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory at the RI, and developed it into a major centre for x-ray analysis. He was the first person to be denominated Director of the RI. He introduced corporate membership to the RI and performed lectures on television for the first time. He worked closely with Max Perutz and John Kendrew at Cambridge (who gained a Nobel Prize for their work on proteins) and under his guidance David Phillips (later Lord), determined the structure of lysozyme in 1965 which was the first enzyme to have its structure identified. Lawrence was Chairman of the Frequency Advisory Committee from 1958 to 1960. He retired from the RI in 1966, but continued to lecture there until 1971. He gained several medals in his career including the Hughes medal in 1931, the Royal Medal in 1946 and the Copley medal in 1966 from the Royal Society. He published many articles and books such as `The Diffraction of Short Electromagnetic Waves by a Crystal' in Proceedings of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 1912; The Crystalline State in 1934 and others in journals such as Philosophical Magazine, Transactions of the Faraday Society and Proceedings of the Royal Society. Lawrence died near Waldringfield, Suffolk in 1971.


Scope and content/abstract:

Papers of Sir William Lawrence Bragg include: (Box1-Box5) speeches and lectures 1942-1971 (some undated), (Box6) civil service lectures 1964-1966 and (Box7-Box9) school lecture notes 1959-1970, relate to topics such as x-ray analysis, science and industry, science in education, the structure of minerals, atoms and molecules, electricity, light, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI) and various acceptance speeches for medals. (Box10) Honours and appointments 1936-1971, relate to correspondence and certificates for honours and positions received from various institutions such as the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge and the Royal Society; also includes letters of congratulations for the honours including that of being knighted in 1941. (Box11) Royal Institution relates to salaries, contracts and organisation. (Box12) James Watson's book 1966-1968, relates to correspondence between Watson and Lawrence, as well as other correspondents; reviews and amendments to the book by Watson called The Double Helix. (Box13) Nobel Prizes relates to papers and correspondence over speeches and nominations for the Nobel Prizes (Note these papers are closed until 2021). (Box14) Private correspondence, references, testimonials and Royal Society Fellowships 1954-1984, relate to various issues including writing references for people, personal life and proposals for Fellows of the Royal Society. (Box15) Retirement, appointments, RI internal affairs, Westgate covenant and salaries. (Box16-Box18) Articles 1955-1969, relate to various articles written by Lawrence for newspapers and journals such as the Times Educational Supplement, Acta Crystallographica and New Scientist. (Box19) Visits to the USA 1925-1935, include articles and correspondence relating to visits to institutions in America; writing articles and general RI administration. Several boxes contain various papers including: (Box20) correspondence with Joseph J. Thomson; a report on the (Michael) Faraday film by S R Eade of 1932; a diary of a visit to South Africa; correspondence 1965, relating to the 50th anniversary of winning the Nobel Prize in 1915; correspondence relating to R J Seeger's paper on Michael Faraday; papers relating to the Rutherford Memorial Lecture of 1958 and papers relating to the Bragg Lecture Fund for the RI; (Box 21) correspondence relating to tape recordings of Lawrence in interviews; articles for Nuclear Applications, Acta Crystallographica and others 1967-1968; articles and correspondence for Scientific American 1965-1971 relating to x-ray crystallography; correspondence regarding the writing of a new edition of The Atomic Structure of Minerals by Lawrence,1954-1967 relating to the crystal structures of minerals; (Box22) correspondence relating to Lawrence Bragg's 80th birthday celebrations, 1968-1971; correspondence relating to Isaac Newton and astrolabes; correspondence relating to Lawrence writing the book The Development of X-Ray Analysis; correspondence relating to Lawrence writing a book about physics called Ideas and Discoveries in Physics; (Box23) BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) correspondence 1954-1960, relates to broadcasts made by Lawrence; correspondence relating to the television programme '50 Years a Winner' about the anniversary of winning the Nobel Prize in 1965; (Box24) letters of congratulation from Lawrence to other people 1954-1969; correspondence relating to the editorial board of the Contemporary Physics publication 1964-1969; (Box25) correspondence relating to 'cranks', people who were not genuine or asked for information unrelated to Lawrence's work; correspondence 1962-1971, relating to a new edition of The Crystalline State book by Lawrence; papers relating to a visit to Czechoslovakia 1968-1969; (Box26) papers relating to the disposal of scientific books and journals 1962-1971; papers relating to the distribution of reprints of articles 1967-1969; correspondence 1966-1971, relating to the RI 'Library of Science' series on science subjects reproducing other publications such as the Proceedings of the Royal Institution; (Box27) correspondence with the Field Survey Association 1948-1971, relating to Lawrence's work during the World Wars; Sound Ranging in the 1914-1918 War, refers to papers of 1966-1969 relating to the subject; correspondence on the bubble model film 1954-1971, relating to the silent film on the 'Bubble Model of a Metal' by Lawrence; (Box28) general correspondence 1966-1971, relating to making films of lectures and scientific topics such as x-ray crystallography and molecules and life, by various companies such as the BBC, Anvil Films Limited and the Educational Foundation for Visual Arts; film scripts and correspondence for 'The Nature of Things' series of six broadcasts from the RI by Lawrence for the BBC 1959-1968; (Box29) correspondence 1965-1968, relating to scientific lectures at the Imperial Defence College and Lawrence's involvement in giving them; correspondence 1956-1970, relating to the Institute of Physics and the Physical Society on issues such as naming a medal after Lawrence Bragg; (Box30) invitations to dinners and lectures at numerous institutions, 1966-1971; (Box31) correspondence 1955-1971, relating to functions, articles, books and work for the Lee-Hemming Fellowship Fund, the Lucretian Club, films of school lectures, the Medical Research Council and miscellaneous papers regarding publishers and societies; (Box32) papers and correspondence relating to the Honorary Scientific Advisory Committee of the National Gallery 1955-1970, publications for the New Knowledge journal 1965-1966, 'nice letters to keep' kept by Lawrence 1963-1971, the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize won in 1915, 1964-1966, the Nobel Prize winners Max Perutz, John Kendrew, Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins, the Nobel meeting at Lindau in 1971 and obituaries by and information from Lawrence1961-1971; (Box33) lists of publications 1913-1969; press correspondence and cuttings 1955-1968; requests for reprints 1958-1964; correspondence relating to research 1953-1971; (Box34) reviews of papers 1947-1970; correspondence relating to the RI 1966-1971; correspondence and papers relating to the Royal Society and Club 1957-1971; (Box35) correspondence relating to the Royal Society soirées 1965-1968; correspondence relating to the Schools Science and Technology Committee 1969; correspondence relating to Solvay Physics Conferences 1933, 1962-1970; correspondence relating to Trinity College Cambridge 1951-1971; correspondence relating to visitors from overseas 1954-1962; (Box36) a card index to old files of Lawrence's; (Box37) family correspondence 1888-1941; (Box38) correspondence relating to appointments 1954-1962; correspondence relating to giving lectures and writing papers 1939-1960; requests for articles 1959-1967; (Box39) correspondence relating to lectures demonstrations for the American Association of Physics Teachers 1962-1963; correspondence relating to an article in the Saturday Evening Post, the bomb detector and with A. J. Bradley 1938-1963; (Box40) correspondence and scripts for broadcasts 1938-1953; (Box41) correspondence relating to Lawrence as a Canadian liaison 1940-1946; (Box42) correspondence relating to publications and becoming Cavendish Professor of Physics 1938-1963; (Box43) correspondence relating to publications by Lawrence 1921-1937; (Box44) correspondence relating to the English Speaking Union of the Commonwealth, with P. P. Ewald, short films by Lawrence, funds for physicists and the Gemmological Association of Great Britain 1954-1968; (Box45) invitations to functions 1947-1953; (Box46) correspondence relating to the Higher Technical Education Committee, hospital expenses incurred by Lawrence, broadcasts and the Institute of Physics 1943-1965; (Box47) correspondence relating to the Gold medal of the Institution of Royal Engineers, international crystal structure tables and invitations to lecture 1932-1964; (Box48) invitations, correspondence relating to obituaries for R. W. James, papers for the Lawes Agricultural Trust Committee 1953-1968; (Box49/a) correspondence relating to lightning conductors 1959; (Box49/b-c, Box50-Box54/a) miscellaneous correspondence from various recipients on various aspects of Lawrence's work and life, 1942-1968; (Box54/b-c) correspondence relating to the Nuffield Science Project 1963-1965; correspondence with Ray Pepinsky on visits and x-ray analysis 1957-1958; (Box55) correspondence relating to the Pepinsky machine for x-ray analysis, publications and articles, the Physical Society, broadcasting and with Derek J. de Solla Price 1941-1969; (Box56-Box57) personal correspondence of Lawrence Bragg 1944-1966; (Box58-Box59/b) references and testimonials by Lawrence 1925-1958; (Box59/c) letter from J. A. Darbyshire 1932; (Box60) reviews of publications 1933-1946; (Box61) correspondence relating to the Royal Institution Appeal 1966-1968; (Box62/a-b) correspondence relating to RI lectures by Lawrence and others 1938-1952; (Box62/c-Box63/b) texts and notes of RI lectures and speeches 1952-1954; (Box63/c-d, Box64/a) correspondence relating to the Royal Photographic Society and the Royal Society Tercentenary, with press cuttings, 1955-1961; (Box64/b) correspondence relating to the Solvay conferences 1959-1961; (Box65) correspondence and papers relating to the Field Survey Association and the War Office, 1919-1940; (Box66) correspondence and reports relating to sound ranging for the war effort, 1940-1946; (Box67) correspondence relating to 'The Nature of Things' television series 1959-1965; correspondence relating to the Understanding Science magazine, the London International Youth Science Fortnight and London Science Club 1962-1968; (Box68-Box70) correspondence and papers relating to overseas visits to countries such as Portugal, South Africa, Canada, Berlin and India, 1941-1968; (Box71-Box79) research notes and correspondence on topics such as x-ray optics, silicates, alloys, order-disorder and heat curves, 1919-1953; (Box80) desk diaries 1966-1970; (Box81) pocket diaries 1951-1971; (Box82-Box86) correspondence and papers on the International Exhibition, Brussels 1958 including papers on exhibits from the UK to be transported to Brussels for example the 'atom exhibit', the 'crystal exhibit' and the 'living cell exhibit', 1956-1959, with letters to and from William Henry Bragg of 1913-1914; (Box87) material including photographs and ephemera collected by Lawrence for his autobiography; (Box88-Box91) RI administrative files including correspondence, applications for tickets, applications for grants for the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory, Managers' minutes and papers, school science lectures and Christmas lectures, 1953-1965; (Box92) reprints of papers by Lawrence's students and colleagues 1919-1970; (Box93) correspondence relating to the Friday Evening Discourses at the RI 1954-1967.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

As outlined in the scope and content field. Some material is uncatalogued. Some material forms part of the Sir William Henry Bragg collection at the RI.

Conditions governing access:

Access to bona fide researchers by appointment with the Keeper of the Collections or the Assistant Archivist, the Royal Institution of Great Britain (RI). Conditions may apply. All users will be required to sign a declaration of use on their first visit. Papers relating to Nobel Prizes are closed until 2021.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Reproduction of material is permitted at the discretion of the Keeper of the Collections, RI. Conditions may apply.

Finding aids:

Catalogue at the RI.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers of Sir William Lawrence Bragg were transferred from his office at the RI and also donated by the Bragg family after his death.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Other papers of Sir William Lawrence Bragg are located at: Royal Artillery Institution (reference: MD/364); Oxford University Bodleian Library Special Collections and Western Manuscripts (reference: SPSL, NCUACS 47/3/94 and NCUACS 45/1/94); Medical Research Council; Cambridge University Churchill Archives Centre (reference: BLRD, CHAD I 24/2, IV 1/6, AVHL); Oxford University Nuffield College Library (reference: Cherwell papers); Cambridge University Library Department of Manuscripts and University Archives (reference: CSA C90/1/83, MSS A. 184, D.2); Rice University Woodson Research Centre, Texas, USA (reference: Julian S Huxley papers); Leeds University Brotherton Library (reference: MS 333); Imperial War Museum Department of Documents (reference: HTT); Cambridge University Archives (reference: CAV). The Royal Institution of Great Britain holds portraits and a model of the structure of lysozyme, of Sir William Lawrence Bragg.

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
Sources: catalogue at the RI; other useful published sources on Sir William Lawrence Bragg: Selections and Reflections: The Legacy of Sir Lawrence Bragg, edited by John M. Thomas and Sir David Phillips (later Lord), Science Reviews Limited, Middlesex, 1990. Obituary in Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 1979 Vol. 25, pp75-143, Sir David Phillips (later Lord), Royal Society, London, 1979. Description compiled by Miss Ivone Martins, Assistant Archivist, RI.

Rules or conventions:
Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal, Place and Corporate Names, 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
March 2001.

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