This unique archive of 72 films provides historical, scientific and personal insights into the work of father and son William and Lawrence Bragg.
The Bragg film archive is a collection of films associated with Sir William Henry Bragg and Sir William Lawrence Bragg – a father and son pair forever linked with the history of the Ri. Originally recorded on 16mm reels and held within the Royal Institution archives, the films relate to the Braggs’ science education and research work at the Ri, and their role in the development of the field of x-ray crystallography.
From 1912 the Braggs led the field of x-ray crystallography – a technique for investigating the atomic and molecular structure of materials that has permeated almost all aspects of the physical sciences – and in 1915 jointly received the Nobel Prize for Physics ‘for their services in the analysis of crystal structure by means of x-rays’.
Both William and Lawrence Bragg also had a significant impact on the development of science education at the Ri, and around the UK. They were both Directors of the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory at the Ri, and passionate about science communication, expanding the Ri’s educational activities and founding the schools’ lecture programme.
The collection is varied but all the films are closely associated with science education at the Ri or the development of the field of x-ray crystallography. They hold insights into the work of Lawrence Bragg and his experimentation with bubble models and soap films, as well as his personal relationship with his grandchildren seen in the outtake snippets of ‘50 Years a Winner’.
Of particular surprise are two films showing re-enactments of Michael Faraday’s work at the Ri and the impact that this has had on the world. Both these films show the power and joy of open-ended science experimentation. ‘Prelude to Power’ (below) highlights the educational work of Lawrence at the Ri, before going back to the work of Faraday; the 1931 Faraday celebrations film highlights the everyday miscellanea that are the direct results of Faraday's accomplishments. This film is particularly special as it is a rare recording of William Henry Bragg, speaking during the 1931 centenary celebrations of Faraday and his discovery of electro-magnetic induction.
The Ri had no capacity to view 16mm film, so the shelves of metal canisters holding these gems presented something of a mystery before digitisation. Thanks to a 2013 grant we were able to digitise this collection of films in order to make this unique material accessible to the wider-public.
We hope the Bragg film archive will reach, inspire and benefit children, teachers and researchers alike. The digitisation of the original film canisters has saved them from deterioration, meaning they can again serve the aim for which they were created: to impart the spirit of scientific questioning and understanding. And the spirit of the Braggs’ work in communicating science through film lives on today in the work of the Ri’s own video productions.
All of the films in this collection have been digitized from reels in our archive, but many of the recordings themselves are subject to copyright of the original creators or owners. Where possible we’ve tried to identify or contact the respective owners. Please see notes attached to each film or series for more details, and if you have more information about rights holders and would like us to take down any footage, please just get in touch.