This week’s question was asked by a friend.

QUESTION: What is the meaning of “a life well-lived?”

ANSWER: If you asked a dozen people that question, you would probably get a dozen different answers. I suppose it would be someone who contributed to the general well-being of people and to our planet Earth. Someone who followed the Golden Rule and a person who did their best to follow the Ten Commandments.

Let’s look to the scientific community for one example. William Lawrence Bragg (1890-1971) was an Australian-born British scientist who used X-rays to discover how matter is put together.

His father, William Henry Bragg, was a British-born scientist and mathematician. He graduated from Trinity College and won an appointment to a teaching post at the University of Adelaide in South Australia in 1885.

In 1889, William Henry Bragg met and married a skilled water-color painter, Gwendolen Todd. They had three children over the years, the oldest being William Lawrence Bragg, born in 1890. When young William Lawrence was growing up, his father experimented with the newly discovered X-rays. The manner in which X-rays pass through a material can reveal its atomic structure.

When young Bragg broke his arm in a tricycle accident, the father X-rayed his son’s arm. This was some years before X-rays were routinely used in the medical profession

The family moved back to England in 1908, and young Bragg entered Trinity College, graduating with high honors in 1911. All the while he worked with his father on X-rays striking materials. They were able to calculate the position of atoms in a crystal.

World War I interrupted the work of both father and son. Young Bragg was made an officer of the Royal Horse Artillery. He was assigned the task of developing a method for locating German artillery emplacements. He and his team set up an array of extremely sensitive microphones placed several miles apart. Their system was capable of accurately measuring the different sound wave arrival times between the microphones. By math triangulation techniques, they were able to pinpoint enemy gun positions to within 50 to 100 feet. The sound ranging techniques made possible precise direct British artillery onto German emplacements. He was awarded the Military Cross and the Order of the British Empire.

On Sept. 2, 1915, while engaged with German forces on the Western Front in France, William Lawrence Bragg received word that his brother was killed in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign. A few days later he received a message that both he and his father had been awarded the Nobel Prize. It was the first and only time in history that a father-son team won the Nobel Prize.

After World War I, both Braggs returned to university teaching and research. In 1921, William Lawrence married Alice Hopkinson. They had four children. Alice Hopkinson was elected mayor of Cambridge and served as National Chairman of Marriage Guidance, among other roles.

The elder Bragg died in 1942, and his son worked on sound ranging problems for the British Navy during World War II. After the war, William Lawrence Bragg ran the Cavendish Lab at Cambridge University and oversaw the work of Watson and Crick, who discovered the double-helix nature of DNA in 1953. William Lawrence earned every high science honor that can be bestowed on any scientist. In addition to his 1915 Nobel Prize, Bragg received both the Copley Medal and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society.

William Lawrence Bragg is just one example of a life well-lived; dutiful son, who worked closely with his father, soldier who served his country in two world wars, married an accomplished person in her own right. They were parents of four successful children who made their parents proud.

A recommended good read; William and Lawrence Bragg, Father and Son: The Most Extraordinary Collaboration in Science by John Jenkin

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Larry Scheckel is a retired Tomah High School physics teacher.


Tomah Journal editor

Steve Rundio is editor of the Tomah Journal. Contact him at 608-374-7785.

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