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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index B > Sir Lawrence Bragg Quotes

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Sir Lawrence Bragg
(31 Mar 1890 - 1 Jul 1971)

Australian-English physicist and X-ray crystallographer who was the son of William Henry Bragg, with whom he shared the 1915 Nobel Prize in Physics. Lawrence determined the Bragg law of X-ray diffraction which is fundamental for X-ray crystallography.


Science Quotes by Sir Lawrence Bragg (12 quotes)

God runs electromagnetics on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by the wave theory, and the devil runs it by quantum theory on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In Daniel J. Kevles, The Physicists (1978), 159, citing interview by David Webster, AIP, p.35.
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I do not want to label myself a crystallographer as against a physicist and think indeed that though my research is concerned with crystals it is the physical side of it which attracts me.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In Letter (3 Jun 1929) to Ernest Rutherford, in Royal Society Archives, as quoted in David Phillips, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1979), 25, 104.
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I feel very strongly indeed that a Cambridge education for our scientists should include some contact with the humanistic side. The gift of expression is important to them as scientists; the best research is wasted when it is extremely difficult to discover what it is all about ... It is even more important when scientists are called upon to play their part in the world of affairs, as is happening to an increasing extent.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
From essay in Thomas Rice Henn, The Apple and the Spectroscope: Being Lectures on Poetry Designed (in the Main) for Science Students (1951), 142.
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So the dividing line between the wave or particle nature of matter and radiation is the moment “Now”. As this moment steadily advances through time, it coagulates a wavy future into a particle past.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In The Development of X-ray analysis (1975) 13.
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The electron is not as simple as it looks.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
As quoted in Alan L. Mackay, “The Harvest of a Quiet Eye” (1977), 23. Cited as “recounted by Sir George Paget Thompson at the Electron Diffraction Conference, Imperial College, 1967.”
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The examination of crystal structure, with the aid of X-rays has given us for the first time an insight into the actual arrangement of the atoms in solid bodies. The study of structure by means of a microscope is limited by the coarseness of the light which illuminates the object, for we can never hope to see details smaller than the wavelength of the light. By using X-rays with their very short wavelengths, this limit of minuteness has at one step been decreased ten thousand times, for the wavelength of the X-rays is of a smaller order than the dimensions of the atomic structure. We are actually looking into the interior of the molecule and the atom with this fine-grained form of light.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In Nobel Lecture (6 Sep 1922). Published in Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921 (1967), 377-378; and on the nobelprize.org website.
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The fun in science lies not in discovering facts, but in discovering new ways of thinking about them. The test which we apply to these ideas is this—do they enable us to fit the facts to each other, and see that more and more of them can be explained by fewer and fewer fundamental laws.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In concluding paragraph of essay, 'The Atom', collected in A Short History of Science (1951, 1959), 124. This essay was broadcast earlier (17 Mar 1950), by Bragg, on BBC Home Service radio 'For the Schools: Talks for Sixth Forms: The History of Science'. It was fifteenth in a series of sixteen talks. The book publishes the original scripts, with a note that “Each author has been free to revise his Talk for publication, but the original spoken version has been retained with only slight variations.” Webmaster has, as yet, not confirmed if the quote in the book varied from the exact words broadcast.
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The important thing in science is not so much to obtain new facts as to discover new ways of thinking about them.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
Webmaster has, as yet, been unable to find a primary source for the subject quote worded as above, and believes it is probably a paraphrase from Bragg’s actual quote, beginning: “The fun in science lies not in discovering facts…” (q.v.) included with citation elsewhere on this web page. The subject (paraphrased?) quote is as given in Alan Lindsay Mackay, A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991), 38. It is cited by Mackay as collected from Arthur Koestler and J.R. Smithies, Beyond Reductionism (1958), 115. Looking at the Library of Congress catalog, Webmaster could only find this title and names (as editors) for a 1968 (not 1958) publication, subtitled New Perspectives in the Life Sciences: Proceedings of the Alpbach Symposium. The LOC catalog spells the second editor’s name as “Smythies” (not “Smithies”).
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The present rate of progress [in X-ray crystallography] is determined, not so much by the lack of problems to investigate or the limited power of X-ray analysis, as by the restricted number of investigators who have had a training in the technique of the new science, and by the time it naturally takes for its scientific and technical importance to become widely appreciated.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
Concluding remark in Lecture (1936) on 'Forty Years of Crystal Physics', collected in Needham and Pagel (eds.) in Background to Modern Science: Ten Lectures at Cambridge Arranged by the History of Science Committee, (1938), 89.
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The X-ray spectrometer opened up a new world. It proved to be a far more powerful method of analysing crystal structure…. One could examine the various faces of a crystal in succession, and by noting the angles at which and the intensity with which they reflected the X-rays, one could deduce the way in which the atoms were arranged in sheets parallel to these faces. The intersections of these sheets pinned down the positions of the atoms in space.… It was like discovering an alluvial gold field with nuggets lying around waiting to be picked up.… It was a glorious time when we worked far into every night with new worlds unfolding before us in the silent laboratory.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In The History of X-ray Analysis (1943), 9.
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There seems to be hardly any type of matter in the condition of a true solid which we cannot attempt to analyse by means of X-rays.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
In Nobel Lecture (6 Sep 1922). Published in Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921 (1967), 380; and on the nobelprize.org website.
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[Presently, science undergraduates] do not learn to write clearly and briefly, marshalling their points in due and aesthetically satisfying order, and eliminating inessentials. They are inept at those turns of phrase or happy analogy which throw a flying bridge across a chasm of misunderstanding and make contact between mind and mind.
— Sir Lawrence Bragg
From essay in Thomas Rice Henn, The Apple and the Spectroscope: Being Lectures on Poetry Designed (in the Main) for Science Students (1951), 142.
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Quotes by others about Sir Lawrence Bragg (4)

The whole subject of the X rays is opening out wonderfully, Bragg has of course got in ahead of us, and so the credit all belongs to him, but that does not make it less interesting. We find that an X ray bulb with a platinum target gives out a sharp line spectrum of five wavelengths which the crystal separates out as if it were a diffraction grating. In this way one can get pure monochromatic X rays. Tomorrow we search for the spectra of other elements. There is here a whole new branch of spectroscopy, which is sure to tell one much about the nature of an atom.
Letter to his mother (18 May 1913). In J. L. Heilbron (ed.), H. G. J. Moseley: The Life and Letters of an English Physicist 1887-1915 (1974), 205.
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In 1945 J.A. Ratcliffe … suggested that I [join his group at Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge] to start an investigation of the radio emission from the Sun, which had recently been discovered accidentally with radar equipment. … [B]oth Ratcliffe and Sir Lawrence Bragg, then Cavendish Professor, gave enormous support and encouragement to me. Bragg’s own work on X-ray crystallography involved techniques very similar to those we were developing for “aperture synthesis,” and he always showed a delighted interest in the way our work progressed.
From Autobiography in Wilhelm Odelberg (ed.), Les Prix Nobel en 1974/Nobel Lectures (1975)
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I think she [Rosalind Franklin] was a good experimentalist but certainly not of the first rank. She was simply not in the same class as Eigen or Bragg or Pauling, nor was she as good as Dorothy Hodgkin. She did not even select DNA to study. It was given to her. Her theoretical crystallography was very average.
Letter to Charlotte Friend (18 Sep 1979). In Francis Harry Compton Crick Papers, Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine.
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I took him [Lawrence Bragg] to a young zoologist working on pattern formation in insect cuticles. The zoologist explained how disturbances introduced into these regular patterns pointed to their formation being governed by some kind of gradient. Bragg listened attentively and then exclaimed: “Your disturbed gradient behaves like a stream of sand running downhill and encountering an obstacle.” “Good heavens,” replied the zoologist, “I had been working on this problem for years before this simple analogy occurred to me and you think of it after twenty minutes.”
As quoted in David Phillips, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (Nov 1979), 25, 132, citing: Perutz, M.F. 1971 New Sci. & Sci. J. 8 July 1967.
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See also:
  • 31 Mar - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Bragg's birth.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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