Lawrence Bragg's role in the development of sound-ranging in World War I

William Van der Kloot


In 1915, when Lawrence Bragg was a 25-year-old Second Lieutenant in the Royal Horse Artillery, seconded to ‘Maps GHQ’, he learned that he and his father had shared the Nobel Prize in physics. Lawrence's equation was crucial for winning the prize and he had been wounded by his father's early dissemination of their work with casual attribution to ‘my son’. Lawrence was responsible for developing methods for pinpointing the position of enemy artillery pieces by recording the boom of their firing with an array of microphones. It was a simple idea but difficult to implement. Step by step, Bragg and the group he assembled solved the problems and developed a system that worked. Sound-ranging was valuable in the British victory at Cambrai in 1917 and vital for that at Amiens in 1918: the ‘black day of the German Army’. He received the MC and the OBE. His Army service manifested both his scientific leadership and administrative skills, which culminated in the demonstrations of the validity of the dream he enunciated in his Nobel lecture: that X-rays could be used to resolve the structure of the most complicated molecules.


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