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Unsung Irish : Ernest Walton July 10, 2007

Posted by Rambling Man in The Unsung Irish.
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Ernest Thomas Walton was born in Dungarvan, Co.Waterford in 1903 and remains the only Irishman to have won the Nobel prize for Science. Walton, along with colleague John Cockcroft won the coveted prize in 1953 for (wait for it) “work on the transmutation of the atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles” otherwise known as splitting the atom. I won’t even pretend to understand what that means but there you go.

Having been educated in Northern Ireland, Walton entered Trinity College Dublin in 1922 where he excelled in the fields of mathmatics and physics. To put the era into context, it was at around this time that Einstein was working on the theory of relativity and the field of quantum mechanics was just being born.

One of the most important areas Walton and his colleagues worked on was the area of atom splitting. In 1932 they did the first experiment that proved Einstein’s theory of E=MC² using a particle accelerator.

Walton later returned to Ireland and married. He died in 1995. Readers might look out for his poster and biography the next time travelling through Dublin airport departures. It adorns the wall, along with several other scientists, on the way to Gate A !

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1. Caoimhin MacAbhoidin - December 15, 2007

Ernest Walton, though born in Waterford, grew up in Ulster and died in Belfast. He was a Protestant who chose to emigrate to Northern Ireland after his retirement from Trinity College. He did his Nobel-prize winning scientific reseach at Cambridge University. Repeating myself, he grew up in the UK, died in the UK, did his famous scientific reseach in the UK, and didn’t support the spirit of Irish nationalism. Thus, it’s subtly misleading to claim he’s “an Irishman who won a Nobel Prize in science”.

2. Rambling Man - December 15, 2007

ok caoimhín, point taken. i hadn’t gone that deep into his childhood etc.

and without meaning to start a row (honestly !) if someone doesn’t support the spirit of irish nationalism i don’t think it would make him less irish …


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