Sculpture Celebrating the Life and Work of Ernest T.S. Walton Opened to the Public

Posted on: 18 November 2013

A sculpture celebrating the life and work of  Ernest  T.S. Walton, Nobel Laureate for Physics, and former graduate and professor at Trinity College Dublin, was opened to the public by Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn TD, today (November 15th) at a special ceremony at Trinity. The sculpture titled ‘Apples and Atoms’ was designed by artist, Eilís O’Connell, RHA.

Ernest T. S. Walton studied at Trinity where he was a scholar and won many College prizes, including a gold medal in experimental science. He graduated with joint honours in mathematics and physics in 1926 and obtained his Masters degree at Trinity in 1927 after which he went to Cambridge to do his PhD. It was in Cambridge that the momentous collaboration between Walton and his fellow physicist, John Cockcroft, began which exploited linear acceleration methods to induce nuclear disintegration by artificial means, as observed by Ernest Walton, on April 14th, 1932. It was the first time that Einstein’s E=mc2 was verified directly in a nuclear reaction. His and Cockcroft’s success, using artificially accelerated particles for experimenting on the atom, meant the research into the nature and structure of the atom was no longer restricted by having to rely on natural sources of radiation. In 1934 Walton returned to Trinity College and was the Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy from 1946 until his retirement in 1974.

“Ireland is home to many science heroes and Ernest T.S. Walton is one of our leading ones. This sculpture pays homage to him as a scientist, teacher and truly celebrates his scientific legacy  that continues to educate and inspire our students of science today, ” said Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn.

Commemorating the 80th anniversary of the experiment, Trinity invited six artists to submit a design, honouring Ernest T.S. Walton’s research achievements as well as 30 years of dedication to science education. Eilís O’Connell’s design was selected by a panel that included representatives from the Walton family, the School of Physics, the College Art Collections, students and external visual arts professionals.

“The sculpture was commissioned to commemorate Ernest T.S. Walton as a significant figure in the history of the College and in the development of science globally.  It reinforces Trinity’s special connection with him and is an opportunity to honour him as a scientist as well as a champion of science education, an academic and an Irishman,” said Provost of Trinity, Dr Patrick Prendergast, whose speech from the dedication is available here

The sculpture by Eilis O’Connell is a stack of mirror polished spheres, increasing in size as they rise upward which appear to defy gravity. It is located beside the Fitzgerald Building, home to the School of Physics. Reflected in the stack of spheres are specially planted native Irish apple trees that refer to the private man and his keen interest for growing fruit trees.

“The sculpture pays homage to Walton’s most important characteristics – his intellectual rigour and hands-on ability to physically build the particle accelerator and his nurturing ability as teacher and father.  A man is not defined solely by his academic achievements but also by the memories he leaves behind in others,” explained sculptor, Eilís O’Connell.

Ernest T.S. Walton generously presented his papers to the College Library in 1993; his family subsequently donated his Nobel medal. A small exhibition, which includes the medal, is currently on display in the Long Room, to mark the formal launch of the sculpture.

The commission was made possible by the support of the Walton family, the Provost, the School of Physics, the Trinity College Dublin Association and Trust, the Department of Education and Skills, the Institute of Physics in Ireland, the Fellows and alumni of Trinity and the Science Gallery.