William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son: The most extraordinary collaboration in science
OUP, $99.95 hb, 458 pp
The award of the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics to William Henry Bragg, sometime Elder Professor of Mathematics and Experimental Physics at the University of Adelaide, and his Australian-born son William Lawrence Bragg is one of the icons of Australian science. Their ‘services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of X-rays’ is mentioned in the guide for new Australians, Becoming an Australian Citizen (2007), so we can put them up there with Don Bradman and Captain Cook.
John Jenkin has previously written articles and published a Braggin-Adelaide picture book, but his monument to them, William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son, is a masterpiece of its kind. It is a scholarly book, with 444 pages and 2046 footnote references, but it reads easily and I relished the sense of time and place that Jenkin brings to his study. There are a few spots where the lay reader might wish to skip the physics, but the text is insightful and absorbing, whether it shows us life in a colonial university, technical aspects of fighting in the Great War, the bitchiness of international science, or the struggle to understand new scientific phenomena.
An Adelaide boy with a PhD in physics, Jenkin lectured and researched solid state physics – the Braggs’ field – at La Trobe University before moving into the humanities. Since 2000 he has enjoyed an emeritus position in La Trobe’s Philosophy Programme.