Scientist who helped found nuclear age, dies

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Science Editor

Ernest Walton, one of the two men who first split the atom and helped found the nuclear age, has died in his native Ireland.

Professor Walton, 92, was one of the last links to the "golden age" of pre-war physics in Europe. Together with Sir John Cockroft he shared the Nobel Prize in 1951 for their fundamental work, in building the first machine to accelerate sub-atomic particles and using it to transmute an atom of lithium into two atoms of helium.

His funeral took place yesterday at the Methodist Centenary Church, Dublin. Professor Walton was a Fellow of the city's Trinity College, where he had worked for many years after his discovery.

He and Sir John made world headlines in 1932 for their work at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, directed by the lengendary Lord Rutherford. They constructed a device which built up a voltage of 500,000 volts, and then transferred the energy to a beam of protons (the nuclei of the hydrogen atom). This high-energy beam of particles was used to bombard a lithium target whose constituent atoms broke apart under impact. Obituary, page 18