Blue plaque unveiled for science pioneers

Charles Bragg unveiling the Blue Plaque in Cloughton
Charles Bragg unveiling the Blue Plaque in Cloughton
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A blue plaque celebrating Nobel Prize-winning research that revolutionised science has been unveiled at the Scarborough house where it all began.

The plaque honouring Leeds University physics professor William Henry Bragg and son William Lawrence Bragg was unveiled at Whin Brow, in Cloughton, where the pair were holidaying when their collaboration began.

The development of X-ray crystallography paved the way for ground-breaking discoveries in the physical sciences, biology, engineering and medicine, including the discovery of DNA structure.

Senior academics and Bragg family members attended the unveiling on July 5, and unveiling the plaque, Charles Bragg, a direct descendant of the duo, said: “It is a great honour to unveil the plaque at Whin Brow, where my grandfather and great-grandfather spent their summer holiday in 1912 discussing the recent discovery of X-ray photography.

“Their work, which followed this trip, was a true partnership, with William Henry Bragg’s great experimental ability and his skill at developing sophisticated equipment at the University of Leeds, which William Lawrence Bragg then used to derive many atomic structures,” he added.

Professor Michael Arthur, of the University of Leeds, said: “It is wonderful to come here today and see the place where William Henry Bragg and William Lawrence Bragg were inspired to begin the research that led to their discovery.

“We are immensely proud that the university was the birth place of X-ray crystallography, which continues to play an important role in modern science.”

The Braggs were staying at Whin Brow at the invitation of family friends when they began discussing a letter from a former student of William Henry Bragg about experiments by Max Laue in Germany showing that x-rays were diffracted by crystals.

The X-ray crystallography technique that the Braggs developed over the next two years allowed scientists to peer into the atomic structure of crystals by looking at the patterns made by the diffraction.

At least 20 Nobel Prizes in physics, biology, chemistry and medicine, including momentous discoveries such as the structures of DNA, haemoglobin and insulin, have relied on the technique.

The Braggs were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1915–the only father and son ever to have won the honour.