Trinity College to Nobel Prize

Trinity College

In 1934 Walton returned to Trinity College, Dublin, where he became Clerk Maxwell Scholar and in 1946 he was appointed to the post of Erasmus Smith’s Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy.  He was granted the title of Senior Fellow of Trinity College in 1960 and remained as Head of the Physics Department until his retirement in 1974. Throughout his career Walton published widely in scholarly journals on hydrodynamics, microwaves, the focussing of charged particles and nuclear physics.
He became Chairman of the School of Cosmic Physics in 1952 a post he held until 1974 and was directly and deeply active in the programme of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.  In a deeply significant indication of his affection for his alma mater, Walton presented his Nobel Prize Medal and citation to the college.

Home Life

On the 23rd of August 1934 Ernest married Freda Wilson who was the daughter of a Methodist Minister and had been at school in the Methodist College Belfast [1915-1922] with Walton.  She died in 1983.  They had five children: Dr Alan Walton later a lecturer in Physics at Cambridge; Marian Woods, later Vice Principal of Methodist College Belfast; Philip Walton, Professor of Applied Physics NUI Galway; Jean Clarke and Winifred Walton who unfortunately died shortly after birth [4days] in 1936.

Nobel Prize

The work of Walton and Cockcroft was central to the development of nuclear physics and after almost 19 years, on the 10th of December 1951, they received the ultimate accolade when they were nominated for the Nobel Prize for Science.  While there are suggestions that the initial nomination was proposed on behalf of Cockcroft alone it would appear that staff at Cambridge insisted that a joint proposal be made.  The citation stated that the prize was “for their pioneer work on the transmutation of the atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles” and noted that “their discoveries initiated a period of rapid discovery in atomic physics”, adding that “this work may be said to have introduced a totally new epoch in nuclear physics”.  A letter of congratulations was sent to Walton by the president of Ireland Séan T. O’Ceallaigh following the ceremony and the physicist remains to this day the only Irishman to win a Nobel Prize for Science.
In an interview with Tom Keith, Walton described the ceremony,

“It was a very formal ceremony with the prize-winners on the platform and the Royal Family in the front row.  It was an afternoon prize-giving, with a gala dinner in the evening at which the prize-winners were guests of honour.  There was all the gloss and glamour of an international event and even by 1951 standards it was a glittering occasion.”

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