Sunday 6 October 2013

The Waltons

If you read The Blob regularly, you'd suspect that I am, like far too many media-hounds, a Nobel Prize groupie.  The word "Nobel" has appeared at least 40 times in the Blobarchive: almost once a week, which is far too much because the Nobel is another winner-takes-all lottery, like Harry Potter. The award system is tainted with politics, political correctness and outrageous 'errors'.  Nevertheless it is a sort of metric, even if only recommended for lazy-arsed bloggers and journalists.

I've met a few of Nobels in my long and not over-exciting life.  TCD Genetics gave John "Caenorhabditis" Sulston (Phys&Med 2002) a prize in 2006, and I was in the same room as him twice that day.  And the same people shifted the machine to give James "Helix" Watson (Phys&Med 1962) an Honorary degree in 2001.  I got up close and personal with him to get him to sign my flaking paperback nth edition of The Double Helix.  Indeed I've got three of his books signed by author over the years, as he keeps on getting invited back - poor feller is (metaphorically) festooned with the knickers of certain senior academics from Ireland's premier University.

I got more benefit from sitting at the feet of Ernest Walton (Physics 1951) for a year of 1st Year undergraduate Physics.  I failed my Physics "O" Level, so was hardly the best clay from which to craft a scientist but in his 70th year he was still patiently explaining how the world really works rather than how people think it should work.  I passed the exam that summer and Professor Walton retired the next year.  I don't think that the effort of getting me over the line was what made him give up lecturing.  He won his prize, shared with John Cockcroft, for making a gizmo that could accelerate a proton so much that it was able split a Lithium atom into 2 alpha particles:
Li (3 protons, 4 neutrons) + 1 proton --> 2 x (2 protons, 2 neutrons)
In my year in College there were two Waltons - twin brothers Bernard and Fintan - who were nephews of the Professor.  Along with the majority of that cohort we all had to go off abroad to seek their fortune.  I left in July after graduating and didn't really come back for 15 years.  Bernard became a successful film maker with the BBC and then in his own company and Fintan started a sort of consultancy, venture-capital, company.  I've met them both back in Dublin since then but nobody from TCD has (yet!) given them a prize or an honorary degree.  The boys are clearly talking to each other because Fintan has launched a spin-off called Pharmatelevision where, for $575 pa you can listen to the 500 of Top Guns of the pharma-biotech industry being interviewed.  A month's free trial is available.

O yes, I almost forgot, E.T.S Walton was born in Dungarvan, Co Waterford on 6th October 1903, and lived into his 90s.
"Goodnight Ma, goodnight Pa, goodnight Ern-Bob."

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