In 1915 a unique father-son team, William Lawrence Bragg (1890–1971), and his father, William Henry Bragg (1862–1942), won the Nobel Prize in physics for their seminal roles in X-ray crystallography, which was necessary to study the structure of complex organic molecules and allow further progress in pharmaceuticals research.
Bragg began his university studies in mathematics in Australia but transferred to Cambridge, where he changed his focus to physics.
In 1912, Max von Laue reported the diffraction of X-rays by a crystal. Bragg, who was by then a doctoral student with J. J. Thomson at Cambridge, and his father began exploring this phenomenon immediately. They brought different interests and skills to the collaboration. William Henry's original interest was in what diffraction showed about the nature of X-rays, and he was a skilled experimenter and designer of instruments. William Lawrence was more concerned with what X-rays revealed about the crystalline state, and he possessed a powerful ability to conceptualize physical problems and express them mathematically. But the work on X-ray crystallography came to a halt during World War I, and both Braggs served as scientific advisers to the military.
Bragg eventually succeeded his father as head of the Royal Institution in 1954. In their various positions the Braggs continued their work in X-ray crystallography and built up programs for doctoral and postdoctoral students. Under their leadership the field moved on to such fields of study as the structure of metals and organic compounds and later to those of biochemical and pharmaceutical importance.