Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1951
Born: 6 October 1903, Dungarvan, Ireland
Died: 25 June 1995, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Affiliation at the time of the award: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
Prize motivation: "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles."
Prize share: 1/2
Ernest Walton was born into a clergyman's family in southern Ireland. After studying at the international school in Belfast and Trinity College in Dublin, in 1927 he received a scholarship to work at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. There, Walton conducted his Nobel Prize-winning work at the beginning of the 1930s. In 1934 Walton returned to Trinity College in Dublin, where he remained for the rest of his active life. Ernest Walton married the same year and had two sons and two daughters.
Ernest Rutherford used alpha particles from radioactive elements to study nuclear reactions and used his findings to convert nitrogen into oxygen. However, only a very few nuclear reactions could be achieved using alpha particles. Ernest Walton and John Cockcroft developed a device, an accelerator, to generate more penetrating radiation. Using a strong electric field, protons were accelerated to high velocities. In 1932, they bombarded lithium with protons, causing their nuclei to split and producing two alpha particles.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.