Dr. Bill O' Gorman, from WIT, speaking about this site on WLR

Friday, September 11, 2009

Walton and the splitting of the atom

Ernest Walton was born in Abbeyside, County Waterford, Ireland, in 1903. He is famous for is work in nuclear physics and along with John Cockcroft was the first physicist to “split the atom”. Walton is the only Irishman to have won a Nobel Prize in science.

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.

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, where he attended and for many years served as Chairman of the Board of Governers.

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