1. Archive

Ernest Walton, 91, helped split atom

Nobel laureate Ernest Walton, who helped usher in the nuclear age in 1932 when he and John Cockcroft split an atom, has died at age 91.

Dr. Walton died Sunday at Belfast City Hospital. No cause of death was given.

He and Cockcroft, an Englishman, were awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize in physics in belated recognition of their atom-splitting breakthrough 19 years before at Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory.

The son of a Methodist minister, Dr. Walton was born in Dungarvan, 100 miles southwest of Dublin. In 1922 he entered Trinity College, Dublin, to study physics and mathematics.

He arrived in England in 1929 on a research scholarship at the Cavendish Laboratory, where he was teamed with Cockcroft.

In a 1987 interview with the Associated Press, Dr. Walton recalled their work building what was to be the prototype of modern nuclear accelerators.

The laboratory had little cash and he and Cockcroft used bicycle parts, modeling clay, cookie tins, sugar crates and glass tubes from old gasoline pumps, among other things. "You had to be a bit of a scrounger and Cockcroft was a very good scrounger," Dr. Walton recalled.

He returned to Dublin in the 1930s and continued his work on atoms first as a fellow of Trinity College and from 1947 until retiring in 1974 as professor of natural and experimental philosophy.