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New building honours scientific pioneer

 October 29, 2017 | Simon Jenkins

The University is to name a new engineering and physical sciences research building in honour of one Leeds’ most influential scientists.

Sir William Henry Bragg won the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics with his son Sir William Lawrence Bragg, for their development of X-ray crystallography.  The work revolutionised science by allowing researchers to examine the atomic structure of materials in detail for the first time.

Now the Sir William Henry Bragg Building will form a key part of the new developments on campus, which together with the Bragg Research Centre, which recognises both father and son, will bring researchers together to create a critical mass in ground-breaking interdisciplinary research and impact.

The name has been approved by Sir William’s family. His great grandson Charles Bragg said: “We are sure Sir William would feel very honoured with this new building being named after him, given that Leeds was where he did the fundamental work leading to the joint Nobel Prize for Physics in 1915.”

Sir William held the Cavendish Chair of Physics at the University from 1909 to 1915 and it was in Leeds where he and son Sir William Lawrence Bragg developed the X-ray crystallography method.  William Lawrence Bragg, then a junior researcher at Cambridge, first suggested the concept behind the technique in 1912 and together they subsequently led the development of the first X-ray spectrometer in laboratories on the University’s campus.

By directing X-rays through matter and recording the resulting diffraction pattern on photographic plates, the pair found they could determine the atomic structure of crystallised materials. The impact of the X-ray spectrometer and the Braggs’ new method has been felt ever since.

Sir William’s research opened up the study of many varieties of crystals creating highly-complex diffraction patterns. Over the years, this led to the need for computer analysis to interpret the patterns, which ultimately resulted in the field of computing developing as an academic subject in its own right at Leeds.

The Sir William Henry Bragg Building will link the School of Chemistry’s facilities with the Faculty of Engineering and incorporate a new home for the School of Computing and School of Physics and Astronomy.

Professor Lisa Roberts, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation, said: “Naming our new building after Sir William Henry Bragg is in recognition of his tremendous achievements and our great admiration and respect for him in Leeds.

“The Braggs’ legacy is felt in all of our lives. The medical ultrasound device that produces pictures of your baby, the fuel injectors in cars, the SONAR used in submarines, to take just a few examples, all rely on materials developed using X-ray crystallography.

“Adopting the Bragg name will also set a marker for the standard of research and global impact we expect to produce. It is increasingly important that our fundamental scientific breakthroughs are translated into real world usage.”

New building honours scientific pioneer