The Walton Bridge petition

15 May 2012

IOP Ireland is campaigning to have the new bridge across the Liffey in Dublin at Marlborough Street named for ETS Walton – Ireland’s only physics Nobel prizewinner.

Artists impression of the bridge

If you agree, please sign our petition.

Ireland's Greatest Scientist of the 20th Century
Ernest Walton (1903-1995) was one of the most respected scientists of the 20th century, thus maintaining a tradition in Ireland that reached back to the seventeenth century. 

In 1932 he and his co-worker John Cockcroft were the first to artificially split the atom in a controlled fashion in the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, which was the leading research centre in the world in atomic and nuclear physics research at that time. Walton had enrolled as a Ph.D. research student following his remarkable achievements as an undergraduate in Trinity College Dublin. 

The experiment had several important outcomes including the verification of Einstein’s famous equation relating mass and energy, E=mc2. Walton was at the birth of modern physics, as carried out in CERN and elsewhere throughout the world. 

This new experimental capability greatly enhanced scientific research in many fields of endeavor including studies into the origins of the Universe itself.

Walton and Cockcroft’s invention of a particle accelerator capable of splitting the atom for the first time earned them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951: To date, Walton remains Ireland’s only Nobel Prize winner in the sciences.

Early days
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was born at Dungarvan, County Waterford on the south coast of Ireland on October 6th, 1903, the son of a Methodist Minister from County Tipperary. 

The ministry demanded that his father move from place to place every few years, and he attended day schools in Banbridge (County Down) and Cookstown (County Tyrone). 

In 1915 he was sent as a boarder to the Methodist College, Belfast, where he excelled in mathematics and science, and in 1922 he entered Trinity College, Dublin , on a scholarship. 

He read the honours courses in both mathematics and experimental science, specializing in physics, and graduated in 1926 with first class honours in both subjects; he received his M.Sc. degree in 1927.

In 1927, he was awarded a Research Scholarship by the Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 and he went to Cambridge University to work in the Cavendish Laboratory under Lord Rutherford. He continued at Cambridge after receiving a senior research award of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research in 1930, and received his Ph.D. in 1931. 

Walton was Clerk Maxwell Scholar from 1932 to 1934 when he returned to Trinity College, Dublin, as Fellow: he was appointed Erasmus Smith's Professor of Natural and Experimental Philosophy in 1946, and in 1960 he was elected Senior Fellow of Trinity College.

Building Bridges to Economic Development
Walton returned to Dublin in 1934 where he inspired many generations of students as an outstanding lecturer and researcher. But his contribution to Ireland went far beyond his role as an educator. 

Walton
Credit: Nobel Prize

In 1957, he wrote to the government about the importance of science in the development of the nation. 

He advocated the need for a stronger science base in the country that would drive Irish industrial growth some two years before the Whitaker-Lemass programme for Ireland’s sustained economic progress. 

He, in fact, had predicted the advent of the knowledge economy at a very early stage and proposed a plan for economic development that remains a viable template for progress today.

Inspiring the Next Generation of Scientists and Innovators
Bringing Walton’s achievements fully into the public domain in this, the year in which Dublin is the designated European City of Science 2012, will undoubtedly inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators. Because of the humility of the man, few in Ireland are aware of Walton's achievements.

His creativity, vision and international recognition within the scientific community are sure to fascinate the general public and school children in particular. 

Naming the Marlborough Street bridge "The Ernest Walton Bridge" will celebrate this unique Irishman, and inspire school children to pursue further study and careers in science and technology, a key objective of the Government. 

Needless to say the impact on tourism and the much-needed boost to Ireland’s pride in these difficult times would be significant.

Celebrating and Commemorating European City of Science 2012
What better time to commemorate Dublin's role as European City of Science and to celebrate one of Ireland's greatest contemporary thinkers, Ernest Walton in this the 80th anniversary of Walton’s seminal work in splitting the atom in 1932? We therefore propose to name the Marlborough Street bridge "The Ernest Walton Bridge" as an icon of Irish science.

Transport for Dublin has more information on the new bridge.

Thanks to Prof. Peter T. Gallagher and Prof. Vincent McBrierty of Trinity College Dublin for this news item.