Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Anglo-Irish physicist: Ernest Walton

Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton (6 October 1903 – 25 June 1995) was born in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford, in 1903, son of Methodist Minister from Tipperary, John Walton and Anne E. Sinton.

In his early years Ernest Walton attended schools in Banbridge and Cookstown before his seven years as a boarder in Methodist College, Belfast, from 1915 to 1922, where he excelled in science and mathematics.

Walton entered Trinity College Dublin in 1922 on scholarship and took a first-class honors degree in Physics and Mathematics (1926).

Upon graduation in 1926, Walton decided to pursue a Master’s degree by research in hydrodynamics for which he was awarded the McCullagh prize in mathematics.

He received a research scholarship to work with Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) at

the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. Walton’s first job in Cavendish Laboratory was to build an apparatus capable of accelerating electrons to very high speeds.

In 1929 Walton was joined by J.D. Cockroft. They succeeded in constructing just such a device in 1932. The new accelerator was a significant development in 20th-centiry physics as it provided a tool for study of the nucleus and its particles, but it was Walton’s first use of the new machine that was to bring the brilliant young Irish research to the fore.

The ‘atom-splitting’ experiment grabbed the public imagination and the significance of the work was immediately appreciated by the scientific community. The Walton-Cockroft particle accelerator sparked off a huge amount of scientific research.

In 1951, Walton and John Cockcroft were recipients of Nobel Prize in Physics “for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles."
Anglo-Irish physicist: Ernest Walton

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