The Trinity Walton Club, named after E.T.S. Walton, is a non-profit initiative aimed at post-primary school students in Ireland established through collaboration between the Schools of Physics, Mathematics, and Education at TCD. It began in 2014 with 60 students participating in the program. The students met every Saturday for over 30 weeks and worked with PhD students on various activities and projects.
The Walton Club has many important aims. The first is to give bright young people an opportunity to do science outside of school. This creates a platform for students to meet people with similar interests from across the country. In the Walton Club, students can develop their scientific knowledge and skills, and learn how to be innovative. This is achieved through various workshops and group projects.
Another important goal of the Walton Club is to give students a chance to fail. This prepares them for real world problems that they may come across in the future, teaching them how to turn a failure into success. Patience, courage, determination and teamwork are essential in a scientific career. Problems that scientists have to face every day are often very complicated and finding a mathematical formula or getting an experiment to work is very difficult and time consuming. The journey towards discovery and success is marked by hard work and can take years. Only people with character who can work well in a research team become successful in science. Without this, even the highest grades and most impressive of exam records become useless in real scientific research.
The main project for the students began after Christmas. They were asked to use the knowledge had they gained throughout the program to provide a solution to a real life problem of their choice. This required teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving and innovation. The students worked in small groups and came up with some fantastic ideas. Their projects were presented at the official launch of the Walton Club in June 2015.
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton is the only Irish scientist who has been awarded a Nobel Prize in a scientific field. More precisely, he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1951 with John Cockcroft for their work on splitting the atom. Their work was a verification of Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2, i.e. energy is equivalent to the mass and the speed of light squared. In 2014 the sculpture entitled ‘Apples and Atoms’ was unveiled beside the FitzGerald Building on the grounds of Trinity, to celebrate his life and work. Ernest Walton loved teaching and passing on his practical skills to students. This initiative to develop the knowledge and skills of young students in STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) could not have been named after anyone else but this brilliant and inspirational man.
Last June the Walton club was officially launched at the end of its first pilot year. The students presented the projects they worked on in the engineering workshops. The projects were their own inventions to make everyday life easier. The projects included an automated fish feeder, a pet proof alarm, a page turning music stand, a USB port powered by sunlight, an alarm clock with a toaster, a gadget that reminds people to take their medicine and an object tracker to help find misplaced objects.
The projects were judged by a panel that chose the best one. Although all projects were very interesting and well presented, the judges chose iSight as the best one. This is a pair of glasses with ultrasonic sensors that can be worn by blind people to make them less reliant on dogs. When someone comes close to say a wall or a lamp post, an alarm would sound and the person can then safely avoid the obstacle.
The award, a fifteen euro coin commemorating Walton, was presented by Marion Woods, Ernest Walton’s daughter. She said about her father: “He would have loved that this is happening. He loved teaching and practical skills”. She remembered the garage he built with lots of tools. Once you learned how to use the tools in a safe way, you could make anything your heart desired. Indeed this is the whole point of Walton Club. It’s not about how to make a specific thing in a specific way. It’s about learning how to use equipment, experimental techniques and mathematics to perform any experiment and solve any problem that you face. Ms Woods was personally inspired by her father and was a physics post primary school teacher. She congratulated all students on their amazing work and wished them success in the future.
At the launch, the founding scientist of the Walton Club Prof. Igor Shvets, the director Prof. Arlene O’Neill, the Dean of Undergraduate Studies Prof. Clive Williams and Minister for Skills, Research and Innovation Damien English gave short speeches on the beginnings of the Walton Club, the activities and topics the students covered over the 30 weeks and the importance of encouraging young people to study science, engineering and mathematics at third level. One of the students was asked to come up and speak about her personal experience of the Walton Club.
She spoke about meeting new and interesting people and enjoying working in groups on experiments and projects. The students had to devote a few hours out of their Saturday, but they didn’t mind because they liked coming and had a really fun time. The students particularly enjoyed working on the big projects they started after Christmas, which were presented at the launch.
The Trinity Walton Club has turned out to be a very successful project. This is mainly because of the enthusiasm and hard work of the people involved in running it as well as the students themselves. The Walton Club will be running again this year and hopefully for many years after that. It is a special opportunity that all science students dream of.
It takes the students into the world of science and technology, and allows them to use their knowledge, skills and creativity to make a difference in their life. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what school you go to. All that matters is the common goal to learn and to enjoy working together with people of similar interests. In years to come this initiative will strongly contribute to the quality of undergraduates in STEM courses in Ireland and will have a very positive influence on Irish industry and academia.