BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

16 October 2014
your place and mine
Your Place & Mine Radio Ulster Website

BBC Homepage
BBC Northern Ireland
greater Belfast
contact ypam
about ypam

print versionprint version

Contact Us

Inventors - Ernest Walton

Walton, along with his colleagues Ernest Rutherford and John Cockcroft, were the first people to split the atom.

Greater Belfast

writeAdd a new article
contribute your article to the site


Inventors - Ernest Walton

The Atom splitting reaction
The Atom splitting reaction

Ernest Walton was the first scientist to split the atom.

Walton, along with his colleagues Ernest Rutherford and John Cockcroft, worked on a shoestring budget, building apparatus out of, amongst other things, old battery leads and glass cylinders from petrol pumps.

While they worked on this problem using such crude equipment, other countries were using high quality equipment and better financial backing.

The method being used was to accelerate protons into a lithium target using extremely high voltages (400,000 volts). This was very dangerous and, using far superior equipment, some Swiss scientists had been killed trying the same experiment.

Despite all the odds being against them, on April 14th, 1932, they succeeded in being the first to split the atom, and the first of them to see the reaction taking place was Walton. In his report he wrote: "In the microscope there was a wonderful sight. Lots of scintillations, looking just like stars flashing out momentarily on a clear dark night." This provided the world with atomic power.

In memory of Ernest Walton, the Walton Science and Technology Buliding at the Methodist College in Belfast is dedicated in honour of this "old boy" of the school.

BBC Radio Ulster's Sunday Sequence programme (5th October 2003) looked back at this one of the greatest-ever scientific discoveries. Click here to listen to the discussion.

Use the form below to post comments on this article
Your Comments
Your Name (required)
Your Email (optional)

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy