Richard Kleeman among young graduates aiding William Bragg in his crucial research phase

Richard Kleeman, William Bragg's first research assistant, (sitting, second from right) with a group of physics research students (and Professor J.J. Thomson) at Cambridge University in 1907.

William Bragg was able to do more research from 1901-04 because of important additions to his team at Adelaide University. William had reminded the university’s education committee in 1899 that he, Robert Chapman and James Allen were teaching all undergraduate and honours courses in mathematics and physics, evening classes, mining, applied mechanics, surveying, acoustics, electrical engineering and laboratory courses.

William put a strong case for employing young graduates to benefit their own chances for jobs and winning scholarships.

Richard Kleeman – along with other such as Herbert Priest, Lawrence Birks, Isaac Boas, Geoffrey Duffield – was among Adelaide graduates the university allowed Bragg to employ as assistant lecturers, demonstrators and laboratory assistants.

Kleeman, the eldest of nine children of German-Lutheran ancestry at Rowlands Flat, left school at 13 to work on the family farm. In 1893, he was apprenticed to a cooper at Yalumba winery and then Chateau Tanunda distillery until 1901. Meanwhile, he read mathematics and physics privately with help from his Lutheran pastor.

In 1897, he sent short papers that impressed William Bragg who arranged for his admission to Adelaide University. In 1901-03, Kleeman obtaining first-class honours in physics.

An evening lecturer and demonstrator in physics at the university in 1904-05, he also helped Bragg in his pioneering studies of radioactivity: Bragg included him as joint author on three papers. Kleeman was awarded an 1851 Exhibition research scholarship to study science in 1905-08 in England at the University of Cambridge. Ernest Rutherford reported that Kleeman had published “five important papers” after “unusually good work”.

Another brilliant undergraduate from Sydney University, John Madsen arrived in Adelaide in 1901 to replace Allen (leaving for Perth) as assistant lecturer in mathematics and demonstrator in physics.

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