Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)

Ernest Rutherford was born in Brightwater New Zealand 30th august 1871. This great man was to soon become the leading experimentalist and latter be christened the father of nuclear physics. His iconic image is celebrated […]

Ernest Rutherford was born in Brightwater New Zealand 30th august 1871. This great man was to soon become the leading experimentalist and latter be christened the father of nuclear physics. His iconic image is celebrated together with the likes of great experimentalist Michael Faraday and other notable scientist. His works have been the foundation blocks of many other nuclear scientists who followed in his path.
Early life.

His education path and achievements were exemplary just like his latter day achievements in science. He studied in Havelock School Nelson College Canterbury College, University of New Zealand before pursuing a postgraduate at Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. This thirst for knowledge would eventually lead him to the heights of scientific and academic excellence, when he got the Nobel Prize in chemistry in the year 1908.

His notable collection of achievements includes being knighted and having fellow scientist under his leadership at Cavendish as director win Nobel prizes in chemistry. These scientists discovered the neutron 1932, split the first atom using a particle accelerator and proved the existence of the ionosphere.

He was not only magnificently talented but he inspired others to rise and achieve great academic accolades and discovery. This lead to his rise in stature and was given the title Baron Rutherford of Nelson 1931.

Scientific achievements and experiments

Alpha ray and beta ray are two of his famous ‘coined phrases’ describing the radiation emitted by thorium and uranium. His deep love for nuclear physics led him to discover the ‘half life’ property of radioactive elements. This is the amount of time radioactive elements takes to decay and using this information he was able to create an application instrumental critical in the calculation of the earth’s true age.

1903 saw him discover a third more powerful penetrating radioactive ray produced from the element radium. He would name this ray as the gamma ray. And even though time has shown scientist new radioactive decay, the three that Ernest Rutherford discovered are still the most common and the earliest discovery. The terms gamma, alpha and beta rays are still being used in modern day scientific studies.

Rutherford famous works/experiments

In the history of the Nobel Prize, Ernest Rutherford is the only one who has won the prize before conducting his most prolific experiments and works of science. This is quite the record. The Gold Foil Experiment (or its more scientific name the Geiger-Marsden experiment) demonstrates the nuclear nature of atoms.

His keen mind deciphered the data from this experiment to come up with the Rutherford model 1911. This stated that a very small negatively charges nucleolus, known to have most of the atoms mass, had low mass electrons circling and orbiting it.

His work and theories on neutrons was to be later proved by James Chadwick, who would earn a Nobel Prize for his recognition/identification of neutrons created from the bombardment of beryllium and alpha particles.

Rutherford legacy in the field of nuclear physics

His tireless dedication and work as a scientist are the building blocks of understanding the nature of radioactive decay, and the nuclear structure of the atom. Recognized by many as the father of the so called nuclear physics, he departed too early to see nuclear chain reactions came into fruition.

He is known for the Rutherford model, Rutherford scattering and Rutherford backscattering spectroscopy among other things. His Discovery of proton and coining the term ‘artificial disintegration’ among other terms are what his legacy is made of.
He was (and still) is an inspiration to scientists all over the world who are heavily involved in nuclear physics.

Awards, monuments and building commemorating Ernest Rutherford

To show undying appreciation for what he did for the scientific community and humanity as a whole, he has several building and monuments named after him.

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, Rutherford College Auckland, and Rutherford Institute for Innovation at the University of Cambridge are just some of the institutions erected to remember the father of the so called nuclear physics.

There are awards like Rutherford Medal (royal society of new Zealand highest medal) Rutherford Memorial Medal, and Rutherford Medal and Prize to mention but a few. These prizes are awarded to those who make giant leaps in the nuclear physics field and are a great honour for those who manage to attain them.

Rutherford has buildings named after him in various British and New Zealand towns, he has street gracing his name from California, to Abingdon Oxfordshire, to New Zealand. His legacy is held tight and upheld by new scientists who improve on the knowledge this great man once gave to the scientific community.

His death aged 66 in England 1937 was a great blow to the scientific community (and the world at large).

Ernest Rutherford biography, nuclear physics