John Cockcroft

John Cockcroft

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Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM
Order of Merit
The Order of Merit is a British dynastic order recognising distinguished service in the armed forces, science, art, literature, or for the promotion of culture...

 KCB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

 CBE
Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is an order of chivalry established on 4 June 1917 by George V of the United Kingdom. The Order comprises five classes in civil and military divisions...

 FRS (27 May 1897 – 18 September 1967) was a British physicist
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

. He shared the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

 in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 with Ernest Walton
Ernest Walton
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age...

, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power
Nuclear power
Nuclear power is the use of sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity. Nuclear power plants provide about 6% of the world's energy and 13–14% of the world's electricity, with the U.S., France, and Japan together accounting for about 50% of nuclear generated electricity...

.

Early years


Cockcroft was born in Todmorden
Todmorden
Todmorden is a market town and civil parish, located 17 miles from Manchester, within the Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, in West Yorkshire, England. It forms part of the Upper Calder Valley and has a total population of 14,941....

, England the eldest son of a mill owner. He was educated at Todmorden Secondary School
Todmorden High School
Todmorden High School is a comprehensive school in the West Yorkshire town of Todmorden, in the Calderdale LEA. The school has specialist Arts College status.-Todmorden High School:...

 (1909–1914) (where his physics teacher, Luke Sutcliffe, would later tutor another future Nobel Prize-winner, Geoffrey Wilkinson
Geoffrey Wilkinson
Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson FRS was a Nobel laureate English chemist who pioneered inorganic chemistry and homogeneous transition metal catalysis.-Biography:...

) and studied mathematics
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 at the Victoria University of Manchester
Victoria University of Manchester
The Victoria University of Manchester was a university in Manchester, England. On 1 October 2004 it merged with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology to form a new entity, "The University of Manchester".-1851 - 1951:The University was founded in 1851 as Owens College,...

 (1914–1915). He was a signaller
Signaller
In the armed forces, a signaller or signaleer is a specialist soldier or seaman or airman responsible for military communications. Signallers, aka Combat Signallers or signalmen or women, are commonly employed as radio or telephone operators, relaying messages for field commanders at the front line...

 in the Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

 from 1915 to 1918. After the war ended, he studied electrotechnical engineering at Manchester College of Technology
UMIST
The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology was a university based in the centre of the city of Manchester in England. It specialised in technical and scientific subjects and was a major centre for research...

 from 1919 until 1920. Cockcroft received a mathematics degree from St. John's College, Cambridge in 1924 and began research work under Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

. In 1929 he was elected a Fellow of St. John's College.

Nuclear research


In 1928, he began to work on the acceleration of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s with Ernest Walton
Ernest Walton
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age...

. In 1932, they bombarded lithium
Lithium
Lithium is a soft, silver-white metal that belongs to the alkali metal group of chemical elements. It is represented by the symbol Li, and it has the atomic number 3. Under standard conditions it is the lightest metal and the least dense solid element. Like all alkali metals, lithium is highly...

 with high energy neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, electron
Electron
The electron is a subatomic particle with a negative elementary electric charge. It has no known components or substructure; in other words, it is generally thought to be an elementary particle. An electron has a mass that is approximately 1/1836 that of the proton...

s and proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s and succeeded in transmuting it into helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 and other chemical element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

s. This was one of the earliest experiments to change the atomic nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 of one element to a different nucleus by artificial means. This feat was popularly – if somewhat inaccurately – known as splitting the atom.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, he took up the post of Assistant Director of Scientific Research in the Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply
The Ministry of Supply was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production and the Admiralty retained...

, working on radar
Radar
Radar is an object-detection system which uses radio waves to determine the range, altitude, direction, or speed of objects. It can be used to detect aircraft, ships, spacecraft, guided missiles, motor vehicles, weather formations, and terrain. The radar dish or antenna transmits pulses of radio...

. In 1944, he took charge of the Canadian Atomic Energy project and became Director of the Montreal Laboratory
Montreal Laboratory
The Montreal Laboratory in Montreal, Quebec, Canada was established by the National Research Council of Canada to undertake nuclear research, and to take over some of the scientists and projects from the Tube Alloys nuclear project in Britain...

 and Chalk River Laboratories
Chalk River Laboratories
The Chalk River Laboratories is a Canadian nuclear research facility located near Chalk River, about north-west of Ottawa in the province of Ontario.CRL is a site of major research and development to support and advance nuclear technology, in particular CANDU reactor...

, replacing Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban
Hans von Halban was a French physicist, of Austrian-Jewish descent.- Family :He was descended on his father's side from Polish Jews, who left Kraków for Vienna in the 1850s...

, who was considered a security risk. In 1946, he returned to Britain to set up the Atomic Energy Research Establishment
Atomic Energy Research Establishment
The Atomic Energy Research Establishment near Harwell, Oxfordshire, was the main centre for atomic energy research and development in the United Kingdom from the 1940s to the 1990s.-Founding:...

 (AERE) at Harwell, charged with developing Britain's atomic power programme. He became the first director of AERE. Even when leaving the post, he continued to be involved with Harwell. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1944, knighted
British honours system
The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories...

 in 1948, and created Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath in 1953.

As director of the AERE, he famously insisted that the coolant
Coolant
A coolant is a fluid which flows through a device to prevent its overheating, transferring the heat produced by the device to other devices that use or dissipate it. An ideal coolant has high thermal capacity, low viscosity, is low-cost, non-toxic, and chemically inert, neither causing nor...

 discharge chimney stacks of the Windscale plutonium
Plutonium
Plutonium is a transuranic radioactive chemical element with the chemical symbol Pu and atomic number 94. It is an actinide metal of silvery-gray appearance that tarnishes when exposed to air, forming a dull coating when oxidized. The element normally exhibits six allotropes and four oxidation...

 production reactors be fitted, at great expense, with high performance filters. Since this was decided after the stacks had been designed, they produced iconic lumps in the shape of the structures. The reactors were designed to remain clean and uncorroded during use, thus it was not considered that there would be any particulate present for the filters to catch. These filters were therefore known as "Cockcroft's Folly" until the core of one of the two reactors caught fire
Windscale fire
The Windscale fire of 10 October 1957 was the worst nuclear accident in Great Britain's history, ranked in severity at level 5 on the 7-point International Nuclear Event Scale. The two piles had been hurriedly built as part of the British atomic bomb project. Windscale Pile No. 1 was operational in...

 in 1957, and the filters prevented the disaster from becoming a catastrophe.

Personal life


Cockcroft married Eunice Elizabeth Crabtree in 1925 and had four daughters and one son. He died at Churchill College, Cambridge
Churchill College, Cambridge
Churchill College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.In 1958, a Trust was established with Sir Winston Churchill as its Chairman of Trustees, to build and endow a college for 60 fellows and 540 Students as a national and Commonwealth memorial to Winston Churchill; its...

, 18 September 1967; he is buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground
Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge
The Ascension Parish Burial Ground, formerly St Giles and St Peter's Parish, is a cemetery just off Huntingdon Road near the junction with Storey's Way in the northwest of Cambridge, England. It includes the graves of many Cambridge academics and non-conformists of the 19th and early 20th century...

 in Cambridge. John R. Cockcroft is his great nephew, notable in the field of cardiology and arterial stiffness.

Recognition


In 1951, Cockcroft, along with Walton, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics
Nobel Prize in Physics
The Nobel Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895 and awarded since 1901; the others are the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Nobel Prize in Literature, Nobel Peace Prize, and...

 for his work in the use of accelerated particles to study the atomic nucleus. In 1959, he became the first Master of Churchill College, Cambridge
Churchill College, Cambridge
Churchill College is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England.In 1958, a Trust was established with Sir Winston Churchill as its Chairman of Trustees, to build and endow a college for 60 fellows and 540 Students as a national and Commonwealth memorial to Winston Churchill; its...

. He was president of the Institute of Physics
Institute of Physics
The Institute of Physics is a scientific charity devoted to increasing the practice, understanding and application of physics. It has a worldwide membership of around 40,000....

, the Physics Society, and the British Association for the Advancement of Science
British Association for the Advancement of Science
frame|right|"The BA" logoThe British Association for the Advancement of Science or the British Science Association, formerly known as the BA, is a learned society with the object of promoting science, directing general attention to scientific matters, and facilitating interaction between...

. Cockcroft served as chancellor of the Australian National University
Australian National University
The Australian National University is a teaching and research university located in the Australian capital, Canberra.As of 2009, the ANU employs 3,945 administrative staff who teach approximately 10,000 undergraduates, and 7,500 postgraduate students...

 from 1961 to 1965. He received the American Atoms for Peace Award
Atoms for Peace Award
The Atoms for Peace Award was established in 1955 through a grant of $1,000,000 by the Ford Motor Company Fund. An independent nonprofit corporation was set up to administer the award for the development or application of peaceful nuclear technology. It was created in response to U.S. President...

 in 1961. He delivered the Rutherford Memorial Lecture in 1944.

Today, five buildings in the United Kingdom are named after him: the Cockcroft building at the New Museums Site
New Museums Site
The New Museums Site is a major site of the University of Cambridge, located in the centre of the city, on Pembroke Street and Free School Lane, sandwiched between Corpus Christi College, Pembroke College and the Lion Yard. Its postcode is CB2 3QH...

 of the University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

, comprising a lecture theatre and several hardware laboratories; the Cockcroft Institute
Cockcroft Institute
The Cockcroft Institute is an international centre for Accelerator Science and Technology in the UK. It was proposed in September 2003 and officially opened in September 2006. It is a joint venture of Lancaster University, the University of Liverpool, the University of Manchester, the Science and...

 at Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire; the Cockroft Hall lecture theatre at the Harwell Science and Innovation Centre; the Cockcroft building of the University of Brighton
University of Brighton
The University of Brighton is an English university of the United Kingdom, with a community of over 23,000 students and 2,600 staff based on campuses in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings. It has one of the best teaching quality ratings in the UK and a strong research record, factors which...

; and the Cockcroft building of the University of Salford
University of Salford
The University of Salford is a campus university based in Salford, Greater Manchester, England with approximately 20,000 registered students. The main campus is about west of Manchester city centre, on the A6, opposite the former home of the physicist, James Prescott Joule and the Working Class...

. The oldest building at the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering
Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering
The Research School of Physics and Engineering was established with the creation of the Australian National University in 1947. Located at the ANU's main campus in Canberra, the school is one of the four founding research schools in the ANU's Institute of Advanced Studies.As part of the Institute...

, Australian National University, the Cockcroft building, is named after him.

In the 1950s, the AERE commissioned a number of homes to be built in the nearby town of Didcot
Didcot
Didcot is a town and civil parish in Oxfordshire about south of Oxford. Until 1974 it was in Berkshire, but was transferred to Oxfordshire in that year, and from Wallingford Rural District to the district of South Oxfordshire...

 for the many Harwell workers who lived there. The "focal" road of this development in the south of the town (the one with the shops, school and public house) is named Cockcroft Road.

Further reading

  • Cathcart, Brian, The Fly in the Cathedral
    The Fly in the Cathedral
    The Fly in the Cathedral is a 2004 book by Brian Cathcart, telling the story of how physicists around the world, but particularly in the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, split the atom in the 1930s....

    , Penguin, 2005. ISBN 0-14-027906-7
  • The Papers of Sir John Cockcroft are held at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge, and are accessible to the public. They include Cockcroft's lab books, correspondence, photographs (with dozens depicting the construction of Chalk River, CKFT 26/4), theses and political papers.

External links