10. Splitting the Atom!

Walton had seen alpha-particles. Cockcroft and Rutherford were informed at once. Rutherford was 'manoeuvred with some difficulty into the cabin' shouting out instructions to Walton: 'Switch off the proton current! Increase the accelerating voltage!.' Eventually he came out, sat on a stool and said: 'Those scintillations look mighty like alpha-particle ones. I should know an alpha-particle when I see one for I was in at the birth of the alpha-particle and I have been observing them ever since'!

Cockcroft was later alleged to have gone skipping down King's Parade (the road past the front of King's College) shouting 'We've split the atom! We've split the atom!,' though in fact Rutherford swore the two men to secrecy for the next few days, allowing them to analyse their results without interruption. On 16 April they wrote a paper at Rutherford's house, and the on 30 April their results were published in Nature.

Next Page