The Two Braggs Exhibition (Warwick University August 2013)
The idea to mount a special exhibition on the lives and works of two of Britain's most famous scientists, William Henry Bragg (WHB) and his son (born in Adelaide, Australia) William Lawrence Bragg (WLB) began in the spring of 2012, when I realized that the centenary of their seminal work during 1912-
Given that the 28th European Crystallography Meeting was to be held at the end of August 2013 at the University of Warwick, where a large number (over 900 in the event) of crystallographers from around the world would be present, this seemed an ideal opportunity to run the exhibition alongside.
Over a period of 18 months, I spent much time in locating many of the artefacts connected with the Braggs and the early days of X-
I also made contact with members of the Bragg family, in particular with Patience Thomson, youngest daughter of WLB, Lady Margaret Heath , eldest daughter of WLB, Dr. Stephen Bragg , son of WLB and the Lady (Lucy) Adrian, granddaughter of WHB and niece of WLB. It was not generally realized that WHB, his wife Gwendoline, and WLB were actually fine amateur artists, and the family had a huge number of their photographs, paintings and drawings. The family joined in the fun with great enthusiasm, offering any material I needed for the exhibition. It was a glorious opportunity for me to make new friends with members of this illustrious family.
We decided also to set up a table showing many books by the Braggs, making use of a table-
It eventually became apparent that the task of putting together an exhibition of high standard was going to be very difficult to achieve. First of all, when borrowing from national museums, I discovered that there are many hurdles to overcome, especially regarding insurance and security of the items borrowed. Then there is the need to locate and borrow showcases of the right standard (the right thickness of glass, metal bands on the edges, special locks etc). On top of this there are all the minute arrangements that would be needed: labelling, printing of advertising material, security walls, invitations and arrangements for an opening reception, officially-
We then come to question of sponsorship and funding. We worked out that for the 5-
At the exhibition venue it was necessary to erect special security walls in front of the large picture window. This was partially to act as a security screen (against smash and grab raids) and also as a convenient place to display all the photographs and artwork. It turned out that this wall was so tough that knocking screw attachments into it for the artwork was particularly challenging: indeed we only just finished moments before the official opening! We also hired several poster boards to place around the hall to show numerous posters sent to us from crystallographers around the country. We are grateful to them for supplying this extra material which added the right sort of finishing touch.
Sir Mark Walport, Chief Government Scientist, came to officiate at the opening reception on August 25th. Around 100 invited guests, including many members of the Bragg family, were present on the day. We started with a private reception in Senate House, with speeches by Pam Thomas, myself and by Sir Mark Walport, followed by a tour of the exhibition itself. For the next five days the exhibition was opened to participants at the ECM as well as to the general public, during which time over 1000 visitors came. On the last day, which we called “Discovery Day”, we added two public lectures (one by myself and Pam on “The Crystal World” and another by Elspeth Garman (“The Bragg Legacy: From Table Salt to Drug Discovery”) , tours of the crystallography laboratories at Warwick, and a special showing of the professionally made film Driven to Diffraction by permission of Ronin Films.
At the end of the week, when it came to dismantle everything, we were all extremely tired but sad to have to close down such a unique exhibition. Many people have asked if we would repeat this exhibition some time or take it elsewhere, but I had to answer with a firm “no”. Unfortunately, I do not think it will be seen again in our lifetimes, as it was such a logistically challenging exercise to carry out. We were indeed fortunate to have advice and help from a professional museum curator, Charlotte New, to whom we owe a great debt. She made sure that everything was done professionally and that we were making the correct security arrangements. She remained present in the exhibition hall throughout, and I do not think this would have been possible without her.