Ernest Rutherford: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson
Born 30 August 1871(1871-08-30)
Brightwater, New Zealand
Died 19 October 1937 (aged 66)
Cambridge, England
Residence New Zealand, UK, Canada
Citizenship United Kingdom
Nationality British-New Zealander
Ethnicity British
Fields Physicist-Chemist
Institutions McGill University
University of Manchester
Alma mater University of Canterbury
Cambridge University
Academic advisors Alexander Bickerton
J. J. Thomson
Doctoral students Alexander MacAulay
Ernest Walton
Robert William Boyle
Cecil Powell
Nazir Ahmed
Rafi Muhammad Chaudhry
Other notable students Mark Oliphant
Patrick Blackett
Hans Geiger
Niels Bohr
Otto Hahn
Teddy Bullard
Pyotr Kapitsa
John Cockcroft
Charles Drummond Ellis
James Chadwick
Ernest Marsden
Edward Andrade
Frederick Soddy
Edward Victor Appleton
Bertram Boltwood
Kazimierz Fajans
Charles Galton Darwin
A. J. B. Robertson
George Laurence
Henry DeWolf Smyth
Harriet Brooks
Douglas Hartree
Iven Mackay
Norman Alexander
Known for Father of nuclear physics
Rutherford model
Rutherford scattering
Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy
Discovery of proton
Rutherford (unit)
Coining the term 'artificial disintegration'
Influenced Henry Moseley
Hans Geiger
Albert Beaumont Wood
Notable awards Rumford Medal (1905)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1908)
Matteucci Medal (1913)
Copley Medal (1922)

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM, FRS (30 August 1871–19 October 1937) was a New Zealand chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics.[1] He discovered that atoms have their positive charge concentrated in a very small nucleus,[2] and thereby pioneered the Rutherford model, or planetary, model of the atom, through his discovery and interpretation of Rutherford scattering in his gold foil experiment. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. He is widely credited as splitting the atom in 1917 and leading the first experiment to "split the nucleus" in a controlled manner by two students under his direction, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in 1932.


Early years

Ernest Rutherford was the son of James Rutherford, a farmer, and his wife Martha Thompson, originally from Hornchurch, Essex, England.[3] James had emigrated from Perth, Scotland, "to raise a little flax and a lot of children". Ernest was born at Spring Grove (now Brightwater), near Nelson, New Zealand. His first name was mistakenly spelled Earnest when his birth was registered.[4]

He studied at Havelock School and then Nelson College and won a scholarship to study at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand where he was president of the debating society, among other things. After gaining his BA, MA and BSc, and doing two years of research at the forefront of electrical technology, in 1895 Rutherford travelled to England for postgraduate study at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge (1895–1898),[5] and he briefly held the world record for the distance over which electromagnetic waves could be detected.

During the investigation of radioactivity he coined the terms alpha and beta in 1899 to describe the two distinct types of radiation emitted by thorium and uranium. These rays were differentiated on the basis of penetrating power.

Middle years

In 1898 Rutherford was appointed to the chair of physics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where he did the work that gained him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. In 1900 he gained a DSc from the University of New Zealand, and from 1900 to 1903 he was joined at McGill by the young Frederick Soddy (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1921) and they collaborated on research into the transmutation of elements. Rutherford had demonstrated that radioactivity was the spontaneous disintegration of atoms. He noticed that a sample of radioactive material invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay—its "half-life"—and created a practical application using this constant rate of decay as a clock, which could then be used to help determine the age of the Earth, which turned out to be much older than most of the scientists at the time believed.

In 1900 he married Mary Georgina Newton (1876–1945); they had one daughter, Eileen Mary (1901–1930), who married Ralph Fowler.

In 1903, Rutherford realized that a type of radiation from radium discovered (but not named) by French chemist Paul Villard in 1900, must represent something different from alpha rays and beta rays, due to its very much greater penetrating power. Rutherford gave this third type of radiation its name also: the gamma ray.

In 1907 Rutherford took the chair of physics at the University of Manchester. There along with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden he carried out the Geiger–Marsden experiment in 1909, which demonstrated the nuclear nature of atoms. It was his interpretation of this experiment that led him to formulate the Rutherford model of the atom in 1911 — that a very small positively-charged nucleus was orbited by electrons. In 1919 he became the first person to transmute one element into another when he converted nitrogen into oxygen through the nuclear reaction 14N + α → 17O + p. In 1921, while working with Niels Bohr (who postulated that electrons moved in specific orbits), Rutherford theorized about the existence of neutrons, which could somehow compensate for the repelling effect of the positive charges of protons by causing an attractive nuclear force and thus keeping the nuclei from breaking apart. Rutherford's theory of neutrons was proved in 1932 by his associate James Chadwick, who in 1935 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.

Later years

He was knighted in 1914. In 1916 he was awarded the Hector Memorial Medal. In 1919 he returned to the Cavendish as Director. Under him, Nobel Prizes were awarded to Chadwick for discovering the neutron (in 1932), Cockcroft and Walton for an experiment which was to be known as splitting the atom using a particle accelerator, and Appleton for demonstrating the existence of the ionosphere. He was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1925 and in 1931 was created Baron Rutherford of Nelson, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge, a title that became extinct upon his unexpected death in hospital following an operation for an umbilical hernia (1937). Since he was a peer, British protocol at that time required that he be operated on by a titled doctor, and the delay cost him his life.[6] He is interred in Westminster Abbey, alongside J. J. Thomson, and near Sir Isaac Newton.


A plaque commemorating Rutherford's presence at the Victoria University, Manchester
Rutherford was known as "the crocodile". Engraving by Eric Gill at the original Cavendish site in Cambridge.

Rutherford's research, along with that of his protégé Sir Mark Oliphant, was instrumental in the convening of the Manhattan Project to develop the first nuclear weapons.

Many items bear Rutherford's name in honour of his life and work:

Scientific discoveries
Major streets
  • Rutherford Close, a residential street in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, UK.
  • Lord Rutherford Road in Brightwater, New Zealand — his birthplace.
  • Rutherford Road in the biotech district of Carlsbad, California, USA.
  • Rutherford Street in Nelson, New Zealand.
  • The crater Rutherford on the Moon, and the crater Rutherford on Mars
  • The Rutherford Award at Thomas Carr College for excellence in VCE Chemistry, Australia
  • Image on New Zealand $100 note.
  • Rutherford was the subject of a play by Stuart Hoar.
  • On the side of the Mond Laboratory on the site of the original Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, there is an engraving in Rutherford's memory in the form of a crocodile, this being the nickname given to him by its commissioner, his colleague Peter Kapitza. The initials of the engraver, Eric Gill, are visible within the mouth.
  • The Rutherford Foundation, a charitable trust set up by the Royal Society of New Zealand to support research in science and technology.[9]


  • Radio-activity (1904), 2nd ed. (1905), ISBN 978-1-60355-058-1
  • Radioactive Transformations (1906), ISBN 978-1-60355-054-3
  • Radiations from Radioactive Substances (1919)
  • The Electrical Structure of Matter (1926)
  • The Artificial Transmutation of the Elements (1933)
  • The Newer Alchemy (1937)

See also


  1. ^ "Ernest Rutherford: British physicist". Encyclopædia Britannica.  
  2. ^ M. S. Longair (2003). Theoretical concepts in physics: an alternative view of theoretical reasoning in physics. Cambridge University Press. p. 377–378. ISBN 9780521528788.  
  3. ^ McLintock, A.H. (18 September 2007). "Rutherford, Sir Ernest (Baron Rutherford of Nelson, O.M., F.R.S.)". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (1966 ed.). Te Ara — The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. ISBN 978-0-478-18451-8. Retrieved 2008-04-02.  
  4. ^ Campbell, John (22 June 2007). "Rutherford, Ernest 1871-1937". The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. 3 (1996 ed.). New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage,. ISBN 0-478-18451-4. Retrieved 2008-04-02.  
  5. ^ Rutherford, Ernest in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  6. ^ D.A. Ramsay (2001). "Book review of Rutherford, Scientist Supreme by J. Campbell". ISI Short Book Reviews. International Statistical Institute. Retrieved 2008-04-02.  
  7. ^ Michael Freemantle (2003). "ACS Article on Rutherfordium". Chemical & Engineering News (American Chemical Society). Retrieved 2008-04-02.  
  8. ^ "ErnestRutherford Physics Building". Virtual McGill. McGill University. 24 January 2000. Retrieved 2008-04-02.  
  9. ^

Further reading

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

All science is either physics or stamp collecting.

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM PC FRS (30 August 187119 October 1937) was a nuclear physicist from New Zealand. He was known as the "father" of nuclear physics, he pioneered the orbital theory of the atom, in his discovery of Rutherford scattering off the nucleus with the gold foil experiment.


The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the "social sciences" is: some do, some don't
  • Radioactivity is shown to be accompanied by chemical changes in which new types of matter are being continually produced. ... The conclusion is drawn that these chemical changes must be sub-atomic in character.
    • "The Cause and Nature of Radioactivity" in Philosophical Magazine (September 1902)
  • All science is either physics or stamp collecting.
    • As quoted in Rutherford at Manchester (1962) by J. B. Birks
    • Unsourced variant: That which is not measurable is not science. That which is not physics is stamp collecting.
    • "Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting." (Unsourced)
      • "That which is not measurable is not science." is also attributed to Lord Kelvin
  • I came into the room which was half-dark and presently spotted Lord Kelvin in the audience, and realised that I was in for trouble at the last part of my speech dealing with the age of the Earth, where my views conflicted with his.
    To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye and cock a baleful glance at me.
    Then a sudden inspiration came, and I said Lord Kelvin had limited the age of the Earth, provided no new source [of heat] was discovered. That prophetic utterance referred to what we are now considering tonight, radium! Behold! The old boy beamed upon me.
  • If you can't explain your physics to a barmaid it is probably not very good physics.
    • As quoted in Journal of Advertising Research (March-April 1998)
    • Variant: A theory that you can't explain to a bartender is probably no damn good.
    • As quoted in The Language of God (2006) by Francis Collins, p.60
  • We've got no money, so we've got to think.
    • As quoted in Quips, Quotes, and Quanta by Anton Z. Capri, page 65.

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Simple English

File:Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM, PC, FRS (August 30, 1871October 19, 1937) was a New Zealand scientist, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908, for his work on nuclear physics, and for the theory of the structure of the atom.

Rutherford was one of the first researchers in nuclear physics, after the discovery of radiation by a French physicist by the name of Antoine Henri Becquerel in 1896. Rutherford discovered the three parts of radiation which he named Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. Rutherford also discovered that alpha particles were helium nuclei. Rutherford's study led to what we know today about the atomic structure, where the atom is a nucleus and electrons orbit around it.

In 1919, Rutherford made the world's first artificial nuclear reaction, where he put alpha particles with nitrogen gas and created particles of oxygen isotopes and protons. The important thing about the experiment was the fact that he changed nitrogen gas into oxygen gas.

Rutherford was the leader of the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He proved the existence of the nucleus and that is was composed of protons and neutrons. In 1932 James Chadwick made an experiment at the Cavendish Lab that showed Rutherford was right.

Rutherford College, a school in Auckland, New Zealand, was named after him.

Other pages

  • Rutherford model

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