Splitting the Atom: Marking 70 years since Ernest Walton was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics

Ernest Walton (1903-1995) graduated in maths and physics from Trinity College Dublin in 1926 and after a year’s work as a postgraduate, travelled to Cambridge to study in the Cavendish Laboratory under Ernest Rutherford. Working with John Cockcroft (1897-1967), he successfully split the nucleus of an atom in April 1932. They were subsequently jointly awarded the Nobel Prize on 10 December 1951 for ‘their pioneering work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles’.

Walton returned to Trinity College in 1934 where he became Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy. He was well known for his personal integrity, his compelling lectures and his commitment to the improvement of the standards of science education in Ireland.

He is commemorated on campus with a blue plaque on the Physics Building and the nearby sculpture Apples and Atoms by the artist Eilís O’ Connell RHA. In 1993 he presented his Nobel medal and citation to the Library of Trinity College Dublin along with his personal and scientific papers. The medal and citation are on display in the Long Room of the Old Library to mark the anniversary of the award of the Nobel prize.

Estelle Gittins