Leeds Light Night 2021: Celebrations to begin honouring the lives of famed scientific duo

Leeds Light Night 2021 will mark the start of a series of events designed to honour the work and achievements of physicist Sir William Henry Bragg.

By Alex Grant
Thursday, 14th October 2021, 4:45 am

A Cavendish Professor of Physics at the University of Leeds in the early 20th Century, Professor Bragg was involved in research that led to a new branch of science called X-ray crystallography, which has since been used in many scientific advances including identifying how DNA is structured.

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Bragg collaborated on the research with his son Lawrence, who was a student and later a lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

Taken in 1922, Sir William Henry Bragg with the X-ray spectrometer. Picture: The Royal Institution Archive

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    Together the father/son duo developed techniques that enabled scientists to determine the atomic structure of crystalline materials.

    So revolutionary was their that work that in 1915 the pair were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

    On Thursday and Friday this week an animation designed by Dutch Artist Melvin Moti is to be projected onto the side of the Bragg Building, a new teaching and research facility for the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University of Leeds, named in honour of the famed Professor.

    Titled the Eightfold Dot, the projection will show a turning and transforming crystalline form, and the work has been described as 'meditative'.

    Celebrations will culminate with the official opening of the Sir William Henry Bragg Building at the University of Leeds in June of next year. Picture: University of Leeds

    Created in 2013 the film will showcase the fourth dimension, a mathematical concept that lies beyond the three-dimensional world we live in.

    Speaking about the display Moti explained: “The narrative of the film is made of numbers, it’s a mathematical script. The viewer is invited to simply watch the story unfold. I never have a message in my work, it’s up to the viewer to make their own narratives in their minds.”

    The Leeds Light Night 2021 projection is to mark the beginning of 'Inspired by Bragg season' which will run over the next eight months to celebrate the achievements of the two scientists.

    On 26 October, a Bragg exhibition opens at The Stanley and Audrey Burton Galley on the University campus, designed to to not only provide an insight into the pair's research but also how their work has influenced more recent scientific advances, both in Leeds and beyond.

    A notebook belonging to the father and son duo, containing calculations, will be one of many special pieces of memorabilia on display at the university's Bragg exhibition. Picture: Special Collections, University of Leeds

    On display at the exhibition will be the notebooks where the Braggs recorded their experimental findings and made their calculations.

    The exhibition will also showcase the original X-ray spectrometer made at Leeds which is on loan from the Royal Institution as well as the pair's Nobel Prize winning medal, which is on loan from the family.

    Dr Stella Butler, Curator of the exhibition, said: “William Henry Bragg and his son Lawrence formed a fantastic scientific partnership. The father brought amazing experimental skill, the son theoretical genius. Together they provided the springboard for scientific discoveries that would eventually reveal the secrets of nature.”

    An accompanying permanent exhibition will be housed in the new Bragg Building with further events planned as part of the celebrations including:

    A stage performance inspired by the contents of the Braggs’ notebooks.

    Concerts with specially composed music that celebrates the Braggs’ work.

    A public lecture on the impact the Braggs had on science.

    The events will culminate with the official opening of the Sir Henry William Bragg building on the University campus in June next year.

    Professor Nora de Leeuw, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, said: “The Inspired by Bragg season celebrates the considerable impact the research conducted by the Braggs has had on science. The father and son team embodied everything that is good about science. They were curious, creative and prepared to think beyond traditional subject boundaries.

    “The building that takes the name of Sir William Henry Bragg will continue to foster that philosophy. It houses some of the most advanced research facilities in the country, particularly in materials research – and it will also be a beacon for interdisciplinary research, bringing together scientists and sometimes artists in the quest for new understanding and insight."

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