World’s Super Scientists – Ernest Rutherford

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Ernest Rutherford is really an Earnest Rutherford – Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1871-1937), widely referred to as Lord Rutherford, was a nuclear physicist who became known as the “father” of nuclear physics.

Scientist Ernest Rutherford pioneered the orbital theory of the atom through his discovery of Rutherford scattering of the nucleus with his gold foil experiment.

Scientist Ernest was born at Spring Grove, near Nelson, New Zealand.

1895 after gaining his B.A., M.A. and B.Sc. degrees, did research in electrical technology.

  • 1895-1898 proceeded to England for postgraduate study at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge. During the investigation of radioactivity, he coined the terms alpha rays and beta rays to describe two distinct types of radiation emitted by thorium and uranium.
  • 1898 appointed to the chair of physics at Mc Gill University in Montreal, Canada.
  • Ernest Rutherford demonstrated that radioactivity was the property of spontaneous disintegration of atoms. He defined “half life” – a radioactive material invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay. Along with Frederick Soddy (Nobel Prize winner 1921) he did research in the transmutation of elements.
  • 1907 Rutherford occupied the chair of physics at the University of Manchester. Along with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden (Geiger-Marsden experiment) he concluded a model and discovered the nuclear nature of atoms; the model of the atom was portrayed as/ established as a structure having a very small positively charged nucleus orbited by electrons – Indeed a break through in the concept of an atom! He became the first person to transmute one element into another when he converted nitrogen into oxygen (figurative an inert gas into a lively/life-giving one!)
  • 1908 Notable Prize: Nobel Prize in Chemistry awarded to him.
  • Scientist Ernest Rutherford was knighted in 1914.
  • In 1919 he returned to the Cavendish Laboratories as Director, a coveted prestigious post.
  • In 1921, while working with Niels Bohr, his distinguished student (who postulated that electrons moved in specific orbits), Rutherford theorized about the existence of neutrons, which compensate for the repelling effect of the positive charges of protons by causing an attractive nuclear force thus keeping the nuclei from breaking apart. Thus he gave an explanation for the stability of the atom. Rutherford’s theory of neutrons was later proved in 1932 by his associate James Chadwick (who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery in 1935).
  • In 1925 Scientist Rutherford admitted to the Order of Merit.
  • In 1931 he was created Baron Rutherford of Nelson, of Cambridge in the County of Cambridge.
  • Died in 1937 (at his age of 66)

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Scientist Ernest Rutherford research of the power of the atom was instrumental in the convening of the great Manhattan project to develop the first nuclear weapons.
Rutherford – A Scientist Supreme

Things named after him are umpteen.


Engraving in Rutherford’s memory – “the Crocodile” nickname given to him, see fig. He had a ‘crocodile grip’ on his work.


Scientist Ernest Rutherford name was inadvertently misspelt Earnest Rutherford when his birth was registered; however judging in retrospect, he deserves the virtue ‘earnest’.

Figure : Scientist Rutherford was known as “the crocodile”.

Engraving by Eric Gill at the original Cavendish site in Cambridge.
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