May 27, 1897, at Todmorden (UK) – September 18, 1967, at Churchill College (UK)
From a wealthy family, he had the privilege of accessing a good academic education from a very young age. He studied mathematics at the University of Manchester.
The outbreak of the First World War forced him to abandon his studies to cooperate with the army until he finished it and he was able to return to Manchester. He resumed his engineering studies at the College of Technology, specializing in electricity, and for two years worked at the Metropolitan Vickers Electrical Company.
However, he wanted to continue training and enrolled at Saint John's College at the University of Cambridge, where he was first a student and then a disciple and collaborator of the great scientist Ernest Rutherford.
At this time when he collaborates with the scientist Piotr Leonidovich Kapitsa in the study of magnetic fields and low temperatures.
Shortly after, he began to investigate, in collaboration with the physicist Ernest Walton, the effects of the acceleration of protons subjected to high voltages and, in 1929, they built the first particle accelerator, known as the "Cockroft-Walton generator".
In 1932, with the same accelerator, they managed to discover the actions of protons on lithium and boron. A year later, in the case of lithium, some of these atoms absorbed a proton and disintegrated into two helium atoms, becoming the first to disintegrate an atomic nucleus with artificially accelerated subatomic particles. They were able to ensure that they were capable of causing artificial radioactivity generated by the bombardment of the atomic nucleus by means of protons.
That same year, Cockroft was hired by the British government as deputy director of Scientific Research of the ministry in charge of guaranteeing the supply of energy and fuel to the country. Shortly after, in the midst of World War II, he collaborated in the development of radar.
In 1934, Cockroft began running the prestigious Royal Society Mond Laboratory.
In 1936, he became a member of the Royal Society of London and, in 1938, he was awarded the Hughes Medal together with Ernest Walton, for his discovery of the disintegration of atoms.
Between 1941 and 1944, he was chief supervisor of the Research and Development department of the British Air Force and from 1944 to 1946 he held the position of director of the Atomic Energy Division of the National Research Council of Canada, a country where he developed several projects in the Montreal and Chalk River Laboratories.
In 1946, he returned to England and was appointed director of the Harwell Atomic Research Center, where the first British atomic batteries were developed and built. This project, his professional career and his contributions to Nuclear Physics earned him a seat on the United Kingdom Nuclear Energy Council until 1959.
In 1948 he was awarded the title of Sir.
In 1951, he also shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Walton, for being the first to disintegrate an atomic nucleus and for his fundamental contributions to the development of nuclear energy.
In 1960, Cockcroft returned to teaching as a professor at Churchill College, Cambridge University. The granting of some 20 honorary doctorates, as well as his honorary position as Chancellor of the Australian National University, were proof of his prolific relationship with the university sphere. He was also president of the Institute of Physics, the Physical Society and the British Society for the Development of Science.
In 1961, he received the Atoms for Peace Prize.