Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton (6 October, 1903 – 25 June, 1995) was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s. Walton is the only Irishman to have won a Nobel Prize in science.
In 1922 Walton won scholarships to Trinity College, Dublin for the study of mathematics and science. He was awarded bachelor's and master's degrees from Trinity in 1926 and 1927, respectively. During these years at college, Walton received numerous prizes for excellence in physics and mathematics (seven prizes in all). Following graduation he was accepted as a research student at Trinity College, Cambridge, under the supervision of Sir Ernest Rutherford, Director of Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory. At the time there were four Nobel Prize laureates on the staff at the Cavendish lab and a further five were to emerge, including Walton and John Cockcroft. Walton was awarded his Ph.D. in 1931 and remained at Cambridge as a researcher until 1934.
During the early 1930s Walton and John Cockcroft collaborated to build an apparatus that split the nuclei of lithium atoms by bombarding them with a stream of protons accelerated inside a high-voltage tube (700 kilovolts). The splitting of the lithium nuclei produced helium nuclei. This was experimental verification of theories about atomic structure that had been proposed earlier by Rutherford, George Gamow, and others. The successful apparatus -- a type of particle accelerator now called the Cockcroft-Walton generator -- helped to usher in an era of particle-accelerator-based experimental nuclear physics. It was this research at Cambridge in the early 1930s that won Walton and Cockcroft the Nobel Prize in physics in 1951.
Walton was a longtime member of the board of governors of Wesley College, Dublin. As a boy he attended Methodist College Belfast.
Walton and Cockcroft received the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1938. In much later years -- and predominantly after his retirement in 1974 -- Walton received honorary degrees or conferrals from numerous British Isles and North American institutions.
The "Walton Causeway Park" in Dungarvan, Co. Waterford was dedicated in his honor with Walton himself attending the ceremony in 1989. After his death the Waterford Institute of Technology named a large building the ETS Walton Building and a plaque was placed on the site of his Co. Waterford birthplace. Other honours for Walton include the Walton Building at Methodist College, Belfast, the school where he had been a boarder for five years and the Walton Prize for Physics at Wesley College.
Splitting the atom, setting the pace ; Celebrations are planned to mark the centenary of the birth of Ireland's only Nobel science laureate, Ernest Walton. Dick Ahlstrom reports
Oct 02, 2003; Being the first person in the world to split an atom might seem like a guaranteed way to be remembered forever. Yet how many can...