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Ernest Rutherford

1871 - 1937

Ernst Rutherford, 1871 - 1937

Ernest Rutherford, 1871 - 1937, was a New Zealand chemist and physicist, who worked in Canada and England. His work pioneered our understanding of the atom.

  • Nationality
  • New Zealand

  • Subject
  • Physics, Experimental

  • Fields
  • Atomic structure, Radioactivity

  • Distinctions
  • Nobel (Chemistry) 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances"

  • Theories
  • Rutherford atom model. Concept of radioactive half-life and transmutation of elements through nuclear decay. Named alpha and beta radiation, and with Thomas Royds proved that apha radiation is the helium nucleus. First splitting of an atom (1917), in reaction between nitrogen and alpha particles, leading to the discovery of the proton. Rutherford predicted the existence of the neutron (1917).

  • Experiments/Discoveries
  • Gold Foil (Geiger-Marsden alpha particle deflection experiment), which led to the discovery of the nucleus. Identification of alpha particle as helium nucleus. Discovery of proton. Transmutation of elements through decay.

With two students, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, Ernest Rutherford ran a series of experiments between 1908 - 1913, known as the Gold Foil Experiment (or Geiger-Marsden Experiment). This experiment revealed that the nucleus of an atom was compact and small, and the remainder of the atom was empty space with electrons 'in orbit' around the positive nucleus.

Ernest Rutherford 1871 - 1937, Father of Nuclear Physics

This became the Rutherford Atom Model, which was superceded almost immediately by the Bohr Model of the Atom, which replaced the orbiting electrons by quantised electron energy states.

Rutherford received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for this work in 1911. He went on to discovery the proton experimentally in 1917, and to successfully predict the existence of the neutron, which was proven correct by James Chadwick (one of his doctorate students) in 1932.

Rutherford is buried near Isaac Newton's tomb in Westminster Abbey. Element 104 (discovered in 1997) is named after him (rutherfordium).

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