Science superstars


Published on October 8th, 1983 Photograph by Peter Thursfield

THE TIMES WE LIVED IN:WE ALL KNOW who this is - don't we? Oh, yes. No prizes for guessing the identity of the man in the middle in this photograph. It is, of course, Stephen Hawking, physicist extraordinaire and one of the most recognisable icons of our scientific times, pictured at a symposium in Dublin in the autumn of 1983. But can you name the smiling bespectacled man on the right? Ho hum. To my shame, I couldn't either.

Clue: he was the first person to split the atom, thus confirming Einstein's famous equation E= mc2. Another clue: he was born in Dungarvan, Co Waterford. Third clue: he won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951, for 'pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles'.

If you haven't recognised Ernest Walton by now, take a good look. He's one of our own and, despite his unassuming manner and genial smile, one of our all-time science greats.

The man on the left is Lochlainn O'Raifeartaigh of the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, who has a theorem named after him and was no slouch on the supersymmetry front, either.

Both of these Irish scientists are now dead, but that doesn't stop us from adding them - starting with Walton, who really does merit superstar status; after all, Prof Hawking hasn't won a Nobel Prize yet, has he? - to the icon pantheon.

We're having a great science year. Another symposium is getting under way in Dublin this month, and not just any old symposium but Europe's largest science conference, the Euroscience Open Forum. With all the advance hoo-hah we're already learning lots about the current state of scientific endeavours worldwide. As the month goes one we will learn more.

Some of it is difficult and some of it is easy. Learning to recognise Ernest Walton is a doddle. Unassuming manner. Genial smile. Spectacles. I'm doing it now. Spot the superstar scientist. You can join me if you like.

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