Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

Overview
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

-born British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 chemist
Chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 and physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 who became known as the father of nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

. In early work he discovered the concept of radioactive half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

, proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation, proving that the former was essentially helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 ions.
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Unanswered Questions
Quotations

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

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)

We've got no money, so we've got to think.

As quoted in Quips, Quotes, and Quanta by Anton Z. Capri, page 65.
Encyclopedia
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS
Royal Society
The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, known simply as the Royal Society, is a learned society for science, and is possibly the oldest such society in existence. Founded in November 1660, it was granted a Royal Charter by King Charles II as the "Royal Society of London"...

 (30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937) was a New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

-born British
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 chemist
Chemist
A chemist is a scientist trained in the study of chemistry. Chemists study the composition of matter and its properties such as density and acidity. Chemists carefully describe the properties they study in terms of quantities, with detail on the level of molecules and their component atoms...

 and physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 who became known as the father of nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

. In early work he discovered the concept of radioactive half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

, proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation, proving that the former was essentially helium
Helium
Helium is the chemical element with atomic number 2 and an atomic weight of 4.002602, which is represented by the symbol He. It is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-toxic, inert, monatomic gas that heads the noble gas group in the periodic table...

 ions. This work was done at McGill University
McGill University
Mohammed Fathy is a public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The university bears the name of James McGill, a prominent Montreal merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, whose bequest formed the beginning of the university...

 in Canada. It is the basis for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...

 he was awarded in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances".

Rutherford performed his most famous work after he had moved to the Victoria University of Manchester
Victoria University of Manchester
The Victoria University of Manchester was a university in Manchester, England. On 1 October 2004 it merged with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology to form a new entity, "The University of Manchester".-1851 - 1951:The University was founded in 1851 as Owens College,...

 in the UK in 1907 and was already a Nobel laureate. In 1911, he theorized that atoms have their positive charge concentrated in a very small nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

,
and thereby pioneered the Rutherford model
Rutherford model
The Rutherford model or planetary model is a model of the atom devised by Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford directed the famous Geiger-Marsden experiment in 1909, which suggested on Rutherford's 1911 analysis that the so-called "plum pudding model" of J. J. Thomson of the atom was incorrect...

 of the atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

, through his discovery and interpretation of Rutherford scattering
Rutherford scattering
In physics, Rutherford scattering is a phenomenon that was explained by Ernest Rutherford in 1911, and led to the development of the Rutherford model of the atom, and eventually to the Bohr model. It is now exploited by the materials analytical technique Rutherford backscattering...

 in his gold foil experiment. He is widely credited with first "splitting the atom" in 1917 in a nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

 between nitrogen and alpha particles, in which he also discovered (and named) the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

. This led to the first experiment to split the nucleus in a fully controlled manner, performed by two students working under his direction, John Cockcroft
John Cockcroft
Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....

 and Ernest Walton
Ernest Walton
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age...

, in 1932. After his death in 1937, he was honoured by being interred with the greatest scientists of the United Kingdom, near Sir Isaac Newton's tomb in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

. The chemical element rutherfordium
Rutherfordium
Rutherfordium is a chemical element with symbol Rf and atomic number 104, named in honor of New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford. It is a synthetic element and radioactive; the most stable known isotope, 267Rf, has a half-life of approximately 1.3 hours.In the periodic table of the elements,...

 (element 104) was named after him in 1997.

Biography


Ernest Rutherford was the son of James Rutherford, a farmer, and his wife Martha Thompson, originally from Hornchurch
Hornchurch
Hornchurch is a large suburban town in England, and part of the London Borough of Havering. Hornchurch is in North-East London .It is located east-northeast of Charing Cross and is one of the locally important district centres identified in the London Plan. It comprises a number of shopping...

, Essex
Essex
Essex is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England, and one of the home counties. It is located to the northeast of Greater London. It borders with Cambridgeshire and Suffolk to the north, Hertfordshire to the west, Kent to the South and London to the south west...

, England. James had emigrated to New Zealand from Perth
Perth, Scotland
Perth is a town and former city and royal burgh in central Scotland. Located on the banks of the River Tay, it is the administrative centre of Perth and Kinross council area and the historic county town of Perthshire...

, Scotland, "to raise a little flax and a lot of children". Ernest was born at Spring Grove (now Brightwater
Brightwater
Brightwater is a town 20 kilometres southwest of Nelson in Tasman district in the South Island of New Zealand. It stands on the banks of the Wairoa River. Brightwater was named by Alfred Saunders, the owner of a local Flax mill situated on the banks of the Wairoa River, after a popular song at the...

), near Nelson
Nelson, New Zealand
Nelson is a city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay, and is the economic and cultural centre of the Nelson-Tasman region. Established in 1841, it is the second oldest settled city in New Zealand and the oldest in the South Island....

, New Zealand. His first name was mistakenly spelled Earnest when his birth was registered.

He studied at Havelock School and then Nelson College
Nelson College
Nelson College is a boys-only state secondary school in Nelson, New Zealand. It teaches from years 9 to 13. In addition, it runs a private Preparatory School for year 7 and 8 boys...

 and won a scholarship
Bursary
A bursary is strictly an office for a bursar and his or her staff in a school or college.In modern English usage, the term has become synonymous with "bursary award", a monetary award made by an institution to an individual or a group to assist the development of their education.According to The...

 to study at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand
University of New Zealand
The University of New Zealand was the New Zealand university from 1870 to 1961. It was the sole New Zealand university, having a federal structure embracing several constituent colleges at various locations around New Zealand...

 where he was president of the debating society, among other things. After gaining his BA
Bachelor of Arts
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...

, MA
Master of Arts (postgraduate)
A Master of Arts from the Latin Magister Artium, is a type of Master's degree awarded by universities in many countries. The M.A. is usually contrasted with the M.S. or M.Sc. degrees...

 and BSc
Bachelor of Science
A Bachelor of Science is an undergraduate academic degree awarded for completed courses that generally last three to five years .-Australia:In Australia, the BSc is a 3 year degree, offered from 1st year on...

, 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
Cavendish Laboratory
The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching laboratory....

, University of Cambridge
University of Cambridge
The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

 (1895–1898), and he briefly held the world record for the distance over which electromagnetic waves could be detected.

In 1898 Rutherford was appointed to succeed Hugh Longbourne Callendar
Hugh Longbourne Callendar
Hugh Longbourne Callendar FRS was a British physicist. He was born at Hatherop as the eldest son of the Reverend Hugh Callendar, a local Anglican rector...

 in the chair of Macdonald Professor of physics
William Christopher Macdonald
Sir William Christopher Macdonald was a Scots-Quebecer tobacco manufacturer and major education philanthropist in Canada.-Early life and career:...

 at McGill University
McGill University
Mohammed Fathy is a public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The university bears the name of James McGill, a prominent Montreal merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, whose bequest formed the beginning of the university...

 in Montreal
Montreal
Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

, Canada, where he did the work that gained him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...

 in 1908. In 1900 he gained a DSc
DSC
-in academia:* D.Sc., Doctor of Science* Doctor of Surgical Chiropody, superseded in the 1960s by Doctor of Podiatric Medicine* Dalton State College, Georgia* Daytona State College, Florida* Deep Springs College, California* Dixie State College of Utah...

 from the University of New Zealand. Also in 1900 he married Mary Georgina Newton (1876–1945); they had one daughter, Eileen Mary (1901–1930), who married Ralph Fowler. In 1907 Rutherford moved to Britain to take the chair
Chair (academic department)
Chair is an equivalent of an academic department in Poland, a division of a university or school faculty devoted to a particular academic discipline...

 of physics at the University of Manchester
University of Manchester
The University of Manchester is a public research university located in Manchester, United Kingdom. It is a "red brick" university and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities and the N8 Group...

.

Later years and honours


He was knighted
Knight Bachelor
The rank of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. It is the most basic rank of a man who has been knighted by the monarch but not as a member of one of the organised Orders of Chivalry...

 in 1914. In 1916 he was awarded the Hector Memorial Medal
Hector Memorial Medal
The Hector Memorial Medal is awarded annually for outstanding contribution to the advancement of the particular branch of science. It is awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand in memory of Sir James Hector...

. In 1919 he returned to the Cavendish as Director. Under him, Nobel Prizes were awarded to James Chadwick
James Chadwick
Sir James Chadwick CH FRS was an English Nobel laureate in physics awarded for his discovery of the neutron....

 for discovering the neutron (in 1932), John Cockcroft
John Cockcroft
Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....

 and Ernest Walton
Ernest Walton
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age...

 for an experiment which was to be known as splitting the atom using a particle accelerator
Particle accelerator
A particle accelerator is a device that uses electromagnetic fields to propel charged particles to high speeds and to contain them in well-defined beams. An ordinary CRT television set is a simple form of accelerator. There are two basic types: electrostatic and oscillating field accelerators.In...

, and Edward Appleton
Edward Victor Appleton
Sir Edward Victor Appleton, GBE, KCB, FRS was an English physicist.-Biography:Appleton was born in Bradford, West Yorkshire and educated at Hanson Grammar School. At the age of 18 he won a scholarship to St John's College, Cambridge...

 for demonstrating the existence of the ionosphere
Ionosphere
The ionosphere is a part of the upper atmosphere, comprising portions of the mesosphere, thermosphere and exosphere, distinguished because it is ionized by solar radiation. It plays an important part in atmospheric electricity and forms the inner edge of the magnetosphere...

. He was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1925 and raised to the peerage as Baron Rutherford of Nelson, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge, in 1931, a title that became extinct upon his unexpected death in hospital following an operation for an umbilical hernia
Umbilical hernia
Congenital umbilical hernia is a congenital malformation, common in infants of African descent. Among adults, it is three times more common in women than in men; among children, the ratio is roughly equal...

 (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. He is interred in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

, alongside J. J. Thomson
J. J. Thomson
Sir Joseph John "J. J." Thomson, OM, FRS was a British physicist and Nobel laureate. He is credited for the discovery of the electron and of isotopes, and the invention of the mass spectrometer...

, and near Sir Isaac Newton.

Scientific research


During the investigation of radioactivity he coined the terms alpha ray and beta ray in 1899 to describe the two distinct types of radiation emitted by thorium
Thorium
Thorium is a natural radioactive chemical element with the symbol Th and atomic number 90. It was discovered in 1828 and named after Thor, the Norse god of thunder....

 and uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

. These rays were differentiated on the basis of penetrating power.
From 1900 to 1903 he was joined at McGill by the young Frederick Soddy
Frederick Soddy
Frederick Soddy was an English radiochemist who explained, with Ernest Rutherford, that radioactivity is due to the transmutation of elements, now known to involve nuclear reactions. He also proved the existence of isotopes of certain radioactive elements...

 (Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is awarded annually by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to scientists in the various fields of chemistry. It is one of the five Nobel Prizes established by the will of Alfred Nobel in 1895, awarded for outstanding contributions in chemistry, physics, literature,...

, 1921) and they collaborated on research into the transmutation
Nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or isotope into another. In other words, atoms of one element can be changed into atoms of other element by 'transmutation'...

 of elements
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

. Rutherford had demonstrated that radioactivity was the spontaneous disintegration of atom
Atom
The atom is a basic unit of matter that consists of a dense central nucleus surrounded by a cloud of negatively charged electrons. The atomic nucleus contains a mix of positively charged protons and electrically neutral neutrons...

s. He noticed that a sample of radioactive material invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay—its "half-life
Half-life
Half-life, abbreviated t½, is the period of time it takes for the amount of a substance undergoing decay to decrease by half. The name was originally used to describe a characteristic of unstable atoms , but it may apply to any quantity which follows a set-rate decay.The original term, dating to...

"—and created a practical application using this constant rate of decay as a clock
Clock
A clock is an instrument used to indicate, keep, and co-ordinate time. The word clock is derived ultimately from the Celtic words clagan and clocca meaning "bell". A silent instrument missing such a mechanism has traditionally been known as a timepiece...

, which could then be used to help determine the age of the Earth
Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

, which turned out to be much older than most of the scientists at the time believed.

In 1903, Rutherford realised that a type of radiation from radium
Radium
Radium is a chemical element with atomic number 88, represented by the symbol Ra. Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, becoming black in color. All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226,...

 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
Gamma ray
Gamma radiation, also known as gamma rays or hyphenated as gamma-rays and denoted as γ, is electromagnetic radiation of high frequency . Gamma rays are usually naturally produced on Earth by decay of high energy states in atomic nuclei...

.

In Manchester he continued to work with alpha radiation. In conjunction with Hans Geiger he developed zinc sulfide scintillation screen
Zinc sulfide
Zinc sulfide is a inorganic compound with the formula ZnS. ZnS is the main form of zinc in nature, where it mainly occurs as the mineral sphalerite...

s and ionisation chambers to count alphas. By dividing the total charge they produced by the number counted, Rutherford decided that the charge on the alpha was two. In late 1907 Ernest Rutherford and Thomas Royds allowed alphas to penetrate a very thin window into an evacuated tube. As they sparked the tube into discharge
Atomic emission spectroscopy
Atomic emission spectroscopy is a method of chemical analysis that uses the intensity of light emitted from a flame, plasma, arc, or spark at a particular wavelength to determine the quantity of an element in a sample...

, the spectrum obtained from it changed, as the alphas accumulated in the tube. Eventually, the clear spectrum of helium gas appeared, proving that alphas were at least ionised helium atoms, and probably helium nuclei.

Rutherford and the Gold Foil Incident


Rutherford remains the only science Nobel Prize winner to have performed his most famous work after receiving the prize. Along with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden
Ernest Marsden
Sir Ernest Marsden was an English-New Zealand physicist. He was born in East Lancashire, living in Rishton and educated at Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn, where an inter-house trophy rewarding academic excellence bears his name.He met Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester...

 in 1909 he carried out the Geiger–Marsden experiment, which demonstrated the nuclear nature of atoms. Rutherford was inspired to ask Geiger and Marsden in this experiment to look for alpha particles with very high deflection angles, of a type not expected from any theory of matter at that time. Such deflections, though rare, were found, and proved to be a smooth but high-order function of the deflection angle. It was Rutherford's interpretation of this data that led him to formulate the Rutherford model
Rutherford model
The Rutherford model or planetary model is a model of the atom devised by Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford directed the famous Geiger-Marsden experiment in 1909, which suggested on Rutherford's 1911 analysis that the so-called "plum pudding model" of J. J. Thomson of the atom was incorrect...

 of the atom in 1911 — that a very small positively charge
Charge (physics)
In physics, a charge may refer to one of many different quantities, such as the electric charge in electromagnetism or the color charge in quantum chromodynamics. Charges are associated with conserved quantum numbers.-Formal definition:...

d nucleus
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 was orbit
Orbit
In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

ed by electrons.

Before leaving Manchester in 1919 to take over the Cavendish laboratory in Cambridge, Rutherford became in 1917 the first person to deliberately transmute one element
Chemical element
A chemical element is a pure chemical substance consisting of one type of atom distinguished by its atomic number, which is the number of protons in its nucleus. Familiar examples of elements include carbon, oxygen, aluminum, iron, copper, gold, mercury, and lead.As of November 2011, 118 elements...

 into another, when he converted nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 into oxygen
Oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 through the nuclear reaction
Nuclear reaction
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, a nuclear reaction is semantically considered to be the process in which two nuclei, or else a nucleus of an atom and a subatomic particle from outside the atom, collide to produce products different from the initial particles...

 14N + α → 17O + proton.  In the products of this reaction he recognized the particle radiation from earlier experiments in which he had bombarded hydrogen gas with alpha particles, and thus as hydrogen nuclei. This result showed that hydrogen nuclei were a part of nitrogen nuclei (and by inference, probably other nuclei as well). Such a construction had been suspected for many years on the basis of atomic weights which were whole numbers of that of hydrogen; see Prout's hypothesis
Prout's hypothesis
Prout's hypothesis was an early 19th century attempt to explain the existence of the various chemical elements through a hypothesis regarding the internal structure of the atom...

. Now Rutherford decided that a hydrogen nucleus was a fundamental building block and a particle, which he named the proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

.

In 1921, while working with Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

 (who postulated that electrons moved in specific orbits), Rutherford theorised about the existence of neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s, which could somehow compensate for the repelling effect of the positive charges of proton
Proton
The proton is a subatomic particle with the symbol or and a positive electric charge of 1 elementary charge. One or more protons are present in the nucleus of each atom, along with neutrons. The number of protons in each atom is its atomic number....

s by causing an attractive nuclear force
Nuclear force
The nuclear force is the force between two or more nucleons. It is responsible for binding of protons and neutrons into atomic nuclei. The energy released causes the masses of nuclei to be less than the total mass of the protons and neutrons which form them...

 and thus keeping the nuclei from breaking apart. Rutherford's theory of neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

s was proved in 1932 by his associate James Chadwick
James Chadwick
Sir James Chadwick CH FRS was an English Nobel laureate in physics awarded for his discovery of the neutron....

, who in 1935 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.

Legacy



Nuclear physics


Rutherford's research, and work done under him as laboratory director, established the nuclear structure of the atom and the essential nature of radioactive decay. Rutherford's team also demonstrated artificially induced nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation
Nuclear transmutation is the conversion of one chemical element or isotope into another. In other words, atoms of one element can be changed into atoms of other element by 'transmutation'...

. He is known as the father of nuclear physics. Rutherford died too early to see Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

's idea of controlled nuclear chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

s come into being. However, a speech of Rutherford's about artificially induced transmutation printed in the September 12, 1933 London paper The Times
The Times
The Times is a British daily national newspaper, first published in London in 1785 under the title The Daily Universal Register . The Times and its sister paper The Sunday Times are published by Times Newspapers Limited, a subsidiary since 1981 of News International...

 is reported by Szilárd to have been his inspiration for thinking of the possibility of a controlled nuclear chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

, in London, on the same day.

Rutherford's speech touched on the 1932 work of his students John Cockcroft
John Cockcroft
Sir John Douglas Cockcroft OM KCB CBE FRS was a British physicist. He shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for splitting the atomic nucleus with Ernest Walton, and was instrumental in the development of nuclear power....

 and Ernest Walton
Ernest Walton
Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton was an Irish physicist and Nobel laureate for his work with John Cockcroft with "atom-smashing" experiments done at Cambridge University in the early 1930s, and so became the first person in history to artificially split the atom, thus ushering the nuclear age...

 in "splitting" lithium into alpha particles by bombardment with protons from a particle accelerator they had constructed. Rutherford realized that the energy released from the split lithium atoms was enormous, but he also realized that the energy needed for the accelerator, and its essential inefficiency in splitting atoms in this fashion, made the project an impossibility as a practical source of energy (accelerator-induced fission of light elements remains too inefficient to be used in this way, even today). Rutherford's speech in part, read:
We might in these processes obtain very much more energy than the proton supplied, but on the average we could not expect to obtain energy in this way. It was a very poor and inefficient way of producing energy, and anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine. But the subject was scientifically interesting because it gave insight into the atoms.

Items named in honour of Rutherford's life and work



Scientific discoveries
  • the element rutherfordium
    Rutherfordium
    Rutherfordium is a chemical element with symbol Rf and atomic number 104, named in honor of New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford. It is a synthetic element and radioactive; the most stable known isotope, 267Rf, has a half-life of approximately 1.3 hours.In the periodic table of the elements,...

    , Rf, Z=104. (1997)

Institutions
  • Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
    Rutherford Appleton Laboratory
    The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory is one of the national scientific research laboratories in the UK operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council . It is located on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus at Chilton near Didcot in Oxfordshire, United Kingdom...

    , a scientific research laboratory near Abingdon
    Abingdon, Oxfordshire
    Abingdon or archaically Abingdon-on-Thames is a market town and civil parish in Oxfordshire, England. It is the seat of the Vale of White Horse district. Previously the county town of Berkshire, Abingdon is one of several places that claim to be Britain's oldest continuously occupied town, with...

    , Oxfordshire
    Oxfordshire
    Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

    , UK.
  • Rutherford College
    Rutherford College, Auckland
    Rutherford College is a co-educational state secondary school on the Te Atatu Peninsula, Auckland, New Zealand.- About :Rutherford College is a New Zealand Qualifications Authority accredited co-educational Year 9-13 State Secondary school, established in 1961. Named after the New Zealand-born...

    , a school in Auckland
    Auckland
    The Auckland metropolitan area , in the North Island of New Zealand, is the largest and most populous urban area in the country with residents, percent of the country's population. Auckland also has the largest Polynesian population of any city in the world...

    , New Zealand
  • Rutherford College
    Rutherford College, Kent
    Rutherford College is the second oldest college of the University of Kent. It is located on the university's Canterbury campus and was established in 1966.-Namesake:...

    , a college at the University of Kent
    University of Kent
    The University of Kent, previously the University of Kent at Canterbury, is a public research university based in Kent, United Kingdom...

     in Canterbury
    Canterbury
    Canterbury is a historic English cathedral city, which lies at the heart of the City of Canterbury, a district of Kent in South East England. It lies on the River Stour....

    , UK
  • the Rutherford Institute for Innovation at the University of Cambridge
    University of Cambridge
    The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

    , UK
  • Rutherford Intermediate School, Wanganui, New Zealand

Buildings
  • Rutherford building at Bedford Modern School.
  • a building of the modern Cavendish Laboratory
    Cavendish Laboratory
    The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching laboratory....

     at the University of Cambridge
    University of Cambridge
    The University of Cambridge is a public research university located in Cambridge, United Kingdom. It is the second-oldest university in both the United Kingdom and the English-speaking world , and the seventh-oldest globally...

    , UK
  • The Ernest Rutherford Physics Building at McGill University
    McGill University
    Mohammed Fathy is a public research university located in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The university bears the name of James McGill, a prominent Montreal merchant from Glasgow, Scotland, whose bequest formed the beginning of the university...

    , Montreal
    Montreal
    Montreal is a city in Canada. It is the largest city in the province of Quebec, the second-largest city in Canada and the seventh largest in North America...

    , Canada
  • Rutherford House, the primary building of Victoria University of Wellington
    Victoria University of Wellington
    Victoria University of Wellington was established in 1897 by Act of Parliament, and was a former constituent college of the University of New Zealand. It is particularly well known for its programmes in law, the humanities, and some scientific disciplines, but offers a broad range of other courses...

    's Pipitea Campus, originally the headquarters of the New Zealand Electricity Department, in Wellington, New Zealand.
  • the physics and chemistry building at the University of Canterbury
    University of Canterbury
    The University of Canterbury , New Zealand's second-oldest university, operates its main campus in the suburb of Ilam in the city of Christchurch, New Zealand...

    , New Zealand
  • The Coupland Building at the University of Manchester
    University of Manchester
    The University of Manchester is a public research university located in Manchester, United Kingdom. It is a "red brick" university and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities and the N8 Group...

     where Rutherford worked was renamed The Rutherford Building in 2006.
  • The Rutherford lecture theatre in the Schuster Laboratory at the University of Manchester
    University of Manchester
    The University of Manchester is a public research university located in Manchester, United Kingdom. It is a "red brick" university and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive British universities and the N8 Group...


Major streets
  • Rutherford Close, a residential street in Abingdon
    Abingdon, Oxfordshire
    Abingdon or archaically Abingdon-on-Thames is a market town and civil parish in Oxfordshire, England. It is the seat of the Vale of White Horse district. Previously the county town of Berkshire, Abingdon is one of several places that claim to be Britain's oldest continuously occupied town, with...

    , Oxfordshire
    Oxfordshire
    Oxfordshire is a county in the South East region of England, bordering on Warwickshire and Northamptonshire , Buckinghamshire , Berkshire , Wiltshire and Gloucestershire ....

    , UK.
  • Lord Rutherford Road in Brightwater
    Brightwater
    Brightwater is a town 20 kilometres southwest of Nelson in Tasman district in the South Island of New Zealand. It stands on the banks of the Wairoa River. Brightwater was named by Alfred Saunders, the owner of a local Flax mill situated on the banks of the Wairoa River, after a popular song at the...

    , New Zealand (near his birthplace)
  • Rutherford Road in the biotech district of Carlsbad, California
    Carlsbad, California
    -2010:The 2010 United States Census reported that Carlsbad had a population of 105,328. The population density was 2,693.1 people per square mile . The racial makeup of Carlsbad was 87,205 White, 1,379 African American, 514 Native American, 7,460 Asian, 198 Pacific Islander, 4,189 from other...

    , USA.
  • Rutherford Street in Nelson, New Zealand.


Other
  • The Rutherford Memorial at Brightwater, New Zealand
  • The crater Rutherford
    Rutherford (lunar crater)
    Rutherford is a small lunar impact crater that lies on the Moon's far side. It is located just to the north-northwest of the huge walled plain Mendeleev. To the east of Rutherford is the equally diminutive crater Glauber, and to the west-northwest lies Hoffmeister.This crater has a roughly...

     on the Moon, and the crater Rutherford on Mars
  • The Rutherford Award at Thomas Carr College
    Thomas Carr College
    Thomas Carr College is a Roman Catholic, co-educational day school located in Tarneit in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. It is named after Thomas Joseph Carr, the second catholic archbishop of Melbourne. In 2006, the principal since the college's founding, Mr...

     for excellence in VCE
    Victorian Certificate of Education
    The Victorian Certificate of Education or VCE is the credential awarded to secondary school students who successfully complete high school level studies in the state of Victoria, Australia. Study for the VCE is usually completed over two years, but it can be spread over a longer period in some cases...

     Chemistry
    Chemistry
    Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

    , Australia
  • Image on the obverse of the New Zealand $100 note
    New Zealand dollar
    The New Zealand dollar is the currency of New Zealand. It also circulates in the Cook Islands , Niue, Tokelau, and the Pitcairn Islands. It is divided into 100 cents....

     (since 1992).
  • 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
    Cavendish Laboratory
    The Cavendish Laboratory is the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge, and is part of the university's School of Physical Sciences. It was opened in 1874 as a teaching 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
    Eric Gill
    Arthur Eric Rowton Gill was a British sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker, who was associated with the Arts and Crafts movement...

    , are visible within the mouth.
  • The Rutherford Foundation, a charitable trust set up by the Royal Society of New Zealand
    Royal Society of New Zealand
    The Royal Society of New Zealand , known as the New Zealand Institute before 1933, was established in 1867 to co-ordinate and assist the activities of a number of regional research societies including the Auckland Institute, the Wellington Philosophical Society, the Philosophical Institute of...

     to support research in science and technology.

Publications

  • 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)

Famous statements

  • "The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine." – 1933
  • "It was almost as if you fired a 15 inch shell into a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.” (describing the Geiger-Marsden experiment
    Geiger-Marsden experiment
    The Geiger–Marsden experiment was an experiment to probe the structure of the atom performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden in 1909, under the direction of Ernest Rutherford at the Physical Laboratories of the University of Manchester...

    )
  • "All science is either physics or stamp collecting" (though he was in 1908 awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry)
  • "We haven't the money, so we've got to think."

Further reading

  • J. Campbell (1999) Rutherford: Scientist Supreme, AAS Publications, Christchurch
  • Reeves, Richard (2008). A Force of Nature: The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford. New York: W. W. Norton. ISBN 0-393-33369-8
  • Rhodes, Richard (1986). The Making of the Atomic Bomb. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-44133-7
  • Wilson, David (1983). Rutherford. Simple Genius, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN 0-340-23805-4

External links