John Douglas Cockcroft


John Douglas Cockcroft

Todmorden, Metropolitan Borough of Calderdale, West Yorkshire, England
Death 18 Sep 1967 (aged 70)
Cambridge, City of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Burial Cambridge, City of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
Plot 1E1
Memorial ID 5935484 View Source
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Nobel Prize Recipient in Physics. John Douglas Cockcroft, a British physicist, received world-wide notoriety after being awarded the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics, sharing the covet award with Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton. According to the Nobel Prize committee, the two physicists received jointly the award "for their pioneer work on the transmutation of atomic nuclei by artificially accelerated atomic particles." Since 1937, he received 16 nominations for the Nobel candidacy, and he was very active in nominating others for the Nobel Prize. In 1932 the two men developed a device, an accelerator, to generate more penetrating radiation by using a strong electric field and protons for high velocities. At that point, they bombarded lithium with protons, causing their nuclei to split and producing two alpha particles. After Sir Ernest Rutherford offered to fund the experiments, he joined with Walton , who had been working on the project since 1928 with little success. The device became to be known as the Cockcroft-Walton Generator. Born the oldest of five sons of a mill owner, he was educated at the University of Manchester starting in 1914, majoring in mathematics. During World War I, he served in the Royal Field Artillery. At the end of the war, he returned to Manchester to study electrical engineering at the College of Technology, following with a two-year apprenticeship. He then went to St. John's College at Cambridge and worked under Nobel Prize recipient, Sir Rutherford in the Cavendish Laboratory. He worked closely with 1979 Nobel Prize recipient Pyotr Kapita, researching low temperatures before joining with Walton. In 1929 he was elected to a Fellowship in St. John's College and became successively University demonstrator, lecturer and was a Jacksonian professor of natural at the University of Cambridge from 1939 to 1946. In 1934 he became director of the Royal Society Mond Laboratory in Cambridge. During World War II, he accepted a war-time appointment in 1939 as Assistant Director of Scientific Research in the Ministry of Supply working with radar equipment along the English coastline. Collaborating with the United States, he was a member of the Tizard Mission of October of 1940. Upon his return to England, he was appointed Head of the Air Defense Research and Development Establishment. He delivered the Rutherford Memorial Lecture in 1944. The same year, he traveled to Canada to be the director of the Canadian Atomic Energy project and became Director of the Montreal and Chalk River Laboratories until 1946 when he returned to England as Director of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell. Before returning to England, he had hand-picked the department heads of the Atomic Energy Research Establishment, including Manhattan Project's Klaus Fuchs , who admitted to being a Soviet spy in January of 1950. He was a chairman in the Ministry of Defense from 1952 to 1954. Although his theory of using filters on two exhaust shafts at the nuclear reactor plant Windscale Pile One was called "Cockcroft's Folly" and considered a waste of time and money, his filters were life-saving on October 10, 1957 when the United Kingdom had their worst atomic incident at that site. It is estimated that 95% of the radioactive dust was captured by "Cockcroft's Folly." He was knighted in 1948 and was created Knight Commander of the Bath in May of 1953, which is rare for a scientist to receive. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received the Hughes Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1938, the American Medal of Freedom in 1946, the Royal Medal in 1954, the Faraday Medal in 1955, the Medal of Merit in 1956, and Atoms of Peace Award in 1961. He received honorary doctorates from some 19 universities and is a fellow or honorary member of many of the principal scientific societies. In 1960 he became the first master of the newly founded Churchill College at Cambridge. Several buildings on university campuses in England are named in his honor as well as the oldest building at the Australian National University. His papers are at the Churchill Archive Center and available to the public. He married and the couple had five children. He died at home of a heart attack and was buried in the same grave as his two-year-old son, Timothy

Bio by: Linda Davis

Family Members



Douglas Cockcroft
O.M K.C.B C.B.E Sc.D F.R.S
First Master of
Churchill College
27th May 1897
18th Sept 1967
Whose love was his strength


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: David Conway
  • Added: 6 Nov 2001
  • Find a Grave Memorial 5935484
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for John Douglas Cockcroft (27 May 1897–18 Sep 1967), Find a Grave Memorial ID 5935484, citing Ascension Parish Burial Ground, Cambridge, City of Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .