Apples and Atoms


Ernest T S Walton (1903-95) physicist and Nobel laureate, entered TCD with a scholarship in 1922; he became a Scholar in 1924 and won many College prizes, including the large gold medal in Experimental Science. He graduated with joint honours in mathematics and physics in 1926 and went to Cambridge to do his postgraduate work. Thus began the momentous collaboration between Walton and his fellow physicist John Cockcroft, which exploited linear acceleration methods to induce nuclear disintegration by artificial means, as observed by Ernest Walton, on 14 April 1932. It was the first time that Einstein’s E=mc2was 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 upon natural sources of radiation.

Walton returned to Trinity College, to become Erasmus Smith Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, from 1946-74.

Walton generously presented his papers to the 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 a piece of sculpture commemorating Walton and his work. The piece of sculpture, which is called Apples and Atoms, is by Eilís O’Connell and may now be viewed beside the Physics building.

Jane Maxwell