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A Young Ernest


Ernest Rutherford was born at Spring Grove in rural Nelson, New Zealand,
on August 30th, 1871. He was the fourth child and second son (of 12
children) to his parents James Rutherford and Martha Thompson. Ernest's
father was an all purpose laborer in that he was a mechanic, wheelwright,
engineer, flax-miller and a farmer. Ernest's mother was a school teacher
before marriage and was able to give her children an education (in addition
to the local schooling) that was as good as any that could be provided at the
time. Both James and Martha stressed the importance of education to their
children throughout their lives: partly because Martha had an education
and knew what opportunities it offered, and partly because James lacked
an education and wanted his children to surpass his limited potential. In
any case, the Rutherford children were always assured that All knowledge is

As can be expected, Ernest demonstrated unique arithmetical abilities and
an unusual desire for learning at a very early age. Considering the fact that
Ernest grew up as a young country boy in a rural part of New Zealand, the
teachers of the local schools greatly encouraged such curiosity. At the age of
ten Ernest at long last acquired his first science text book from the Foxhill
School. From this divine book he was able to acquire an idea that soon
turned into his first recorded experiment.

Ernest's first experiment was the construction and testing of a home-made
cannon. Many may be wondering: "How could a ten year old country boy
build a cannon?" Well, the answer to this question is quite simple: the boy
was Ernest Rutherford, end of story. In any case, this primitive canon was
constructed from the brass tube of a hat-peg, used a marble for a ball, and
used a dose of gunpowder as a source of ignition. Rutherford may have
been anbright child, but it seems that he didn't inherit his father's
engineering skills; because the canon exploded and failed to hit the target
that was eloquently placed twenty meters away.

Luckily, Rutherford survived his first experiment and was able to survive
his pre-mature experiments and scientific inquiries long enough for him to
attend secondary school. At that time the Scholarship to Nelson College was
the only scholarship available for children of Rutherford's rural and poor
background. Needless to say, competition was over abundant. Upon his
second attempt, Rutherford was finally able to win the scholarship in 1887
and begin his secondary education.

Rutherford spent his next three years at Nelson College and came under the
tuition of the master William Littlejohn. In addition to being head boy and a
member on the school rugby team, Rutherford managed to top his class in
every subject during his final year at Nelson. At the end of that year
Rutherford won one of ten nationwide Junior Scholarships to the
University of New Zealand (currently the University of Canterbury) in 1889
(once more on his second attempt). Rutherford remained in New Zealand
and continued to pursue various degrees until he left for Cambridge
University at the age of twenty three. Soon afterwards Rutherford
befriended J.J. Thomson (who acted not only as a helpful colleague but also
as a mentor) and began his insightful career as both physicist and chemist.
The rest of this story is written down in all types of science text books and
will remain in such books until the end of time.

New Zealand. in Christchurch  1892: Joined the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury. Nelson Province. The Rutherford Timeline  1871: Born at Spring Grove (now Brightwater).  1883-6: Attended Havelock School. University of New Zealand. 30th Aug 1871.  1890-4: Attended Canterbury College.  1877-83: Attended Foxhill School. now the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.  1889: Won a University of New Zealand Junior Scholarship. .  1887: Won a Marlborough Scholarship to Nelson College. Nelson Province.

 1892: Completed BA. New Zealand. later to be named radon. in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics.  1894: Completed BSc in Chemistry and Geology.  1893: Completed MA with double First Class Honours.  1898: Discovers rays from radioactive materials are of two main types. Developed a magnetic detector of very short current pulses.  1895: Measured the high frequency dielectric properties of materials.  1902: Announces formally that radioactivity is a manifestation of sub-atomic change.  1893: First original research on the high frequency magnetisation of iron. Used his magnetic detector as part of a frequency meter. Developed a timing device which could switch circuits in less than one hundred thousandth of a second. Extended his research to higher frequencies using discharging Leyden jars and a Hertzian oscillator. Now Dr Rutherford.  1895: Awarded an Exhibition of 1851 scholarship to go anywhere in the world to carry out research of importance to New Zealand's industries. and in Physical Science.  1900: Marries Mary Georgina Newton in Christchurch.  1899: Demonstrates the principle which is the basis of the modern smoke detector. .  1896: Sets the world record for the distance over which 'wireless' waves were detected.  1899: Discovers a radioactive gas.  1901: DSc from the University of New Zealand. which he names alpha and beta.

 1937: Died 19th Oct 1937. Lord Rutherford of Nelson.  1911: Announces the nuclear model of the atom.  1931-33: President of the Institute of Physics. Ashes interred in Westminister Abbey.  1904: Awarded the Rumford Medal. changing nitrogen into oxygen (he splits the atom).  1908: Nobel Prize in Chemistry. his first major science prize.  1929-37: Chairman of the Advisory Council of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.  1931: Raised to the Peerage at New Year.  1925: Order of Merit. 1903: Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of London.  1915-17: Pioneer work on acoustic methods of detecting submarines.  1925-30: President of the Royal Society of London. An Overview of Radiation and Radioactivity .  1920: Predicts the existence of the neutron. Now Sir Ernest Rutherford. Now Ernest.  1917: Becomes the world's first successful alchemist.  1914: Knighted.

*Note. a base understanding of the history of radiation and radioactivity must be obtained before Rutherford's contributions are discussed. Röntgen was able to publish his research soon after the discovery and called the radiation "X-rays.For more information on Wilhelm Röntgen's discovery and experimentation with X-rays. a lot of his research served to shed light on once unknown aspects of radioactivity and nuclear chemistry. However. which couldn't had been good for his health. . Röntgen was directly exposing himself to high amounts of hazardous radiation. click here. The first steps into deciphering radiation were taken by Wilhelm Röntgen in 1895 when he placed his hand in front of a radioactive source to discover that a shadowed outline of the bones of his hand was being projected onto the screen behind him. I shall therefore start from the beginning." *Note. Röntgen was so thrilled by this discovery that he isolated himself from everyone he knew (with the exception of brief comments to his wife) so that he could experiment with this unknown form of radiation.Even though Ernest Rutherford was by trade a physicist. Rutherford didn't necessarily discover alpha particles as much as he recognized their existence.The image below portrays an early experimental tube that is similar to those that Roentgen and others used to investigate the nature of light. As will be discussed in subsequent pages. Unbeknownst to him at the time. Of his many contributions to these fields is his classification and description of alpha particles. But despite such consequences.

The importance of this discovery was that it inspired research into the concept of radioactivity (or radioactive decay) by both the husband and wife pair of Pierre and Marie Curie and our very own Ernest Rutherford. Eventually. His early experiments were largely oriented around uranium and its exposure to sunlight (which was done in order to make uranium luminescent). *Note. One such scientist was Henri Becquerel. Bacquerel realized that his samples of uranium were radiating regardless as to whether or not they had been stimulatedby a light source.Röntgen's discovery was worth mentioning because his research catalyzed other scientists into searching for other forms of radiation. who was so intrigued by the Röntgen's discovery that he decided to search for luminescent objects that could produce rays that were similar to X-rays. . (and almost by pure accident).Additional information on both Henri Becquerel and Pierre/Marie Curie can be found here.

Alpha Particles .

While several of the rays were in fact blocked by the foil. some of them still managed to pass through with relative ease. Upon additional experimentation. the previous page did not focus on the discoveries of Ernest Rutherford (the topic scientist of this site). the research of Röntgen prompted Becquerel's research. Rutherford began to wonder if the uranium rays that Becquerel discovered would ionize the gas just as X-rays and ultraviolet light were observed to do. he devised an experiment to test the characteristics of uranium rays by placing two metal plates parallel to one another (with one of course being above the other). Rutherford began measuring the electric current of gases ionized by Röntgen's X-rays and ultraviolet light soon after he began collaborating with J. his work with alpha particles tends to be emphasized since . In 1898 Rutherford published a scientific article in which he described the existence of the two different uranium rays. respectively). To further characterize the rays. For example.In case any one hasn't noticed. which prompted Rutherford's research. He also termed the easily absorbed rays as alpha and the more penetrating rays as beta. Rutherford discovered that these rays were actually composed of tiny alpha and beta particles. Rutherford's discoveries and contributions can be discussed with the attention that they deserve. He^(+2). I provided the general history of the discoveries in this field in hopes that Rutherford's research could be more easily understood. After committing himself to this study for some time. The two plates were connected to a battery and the lower plate was coated with uranium powder. Even though Rutherford worked with both alpha and beta particles (which were later identified as being helium nuclei.J. Now that this background has been established. Such attention was given to the discoveries of other scientists because the subject of radiation and radioactivity can not be attributed to just one person. This was perhaps the most crucial point of Rutherford's experiment because it showed that uranium radiation was composed of two different types of rays: one that was easily absorbed and another that was more penetrative. Rutherford covered the uranium with metal foils of various degrees of thickness to see whether the rays would be blocked by the foil or just pass right through it. In other words. Thomson (who acted as a mentor to the young and promising scientist for many years). and electrons. Rutherford proceeded to measure the electric current between the plates and discovered that the rays were in fact ionizing the gas. With this inquiry in mind.

they were primary components of several of his more commonly known experiments. . the foundation for his Gold Foil Experiment (perhaps one of his greatest scientific achievements) was laid down when he began measuring the specific charge of alpha particles by deflecting them in electric and magnetic fields. In fact.

the image provides some incite as to what exactly Rutherford was working with. so Rutherford had no way of explaining why he was seeing what he was seeing. while he was making the appropriate measurements he noticed that the images on the film became blurred when the particles passed through a thin piece of mica. . he could not help but ask the all important question of "why?".*Note. Thus in his quest for knowledge he performed the most well known of all of his experiments: The Gold Foil Experiment. At this point in time the nucleus of an atom had not been discovered. However. However. Rutherford was by nature a scientist and could not be content with just not knowing. the images that Rutherford saw were blurred because the small alpha particles were being deflected at slight angles by the nuclei of the atoms in the mica sheet. The images were clear and distinct when the mica plate was removed. Even though the process at which these particles are formed wasn't necessarily described by Rutherford.Above is an image that depicts alpha particle radiation. but became slightly blurred every time the plate was inserted in the particle pathway. Rutherford's initial desire for these tests was to find the deflection of the alpha particles by measuring their position on a photographic film. Seeing how Rutherford had an extremely inquisitive mind. Incidentally.

The Gold Foil Experiment .

The plum pudding model also states that the negative charge of the electrons is equivalent to the positive charge of the rest of the atom. Thomson (the discoverer of the electron) who described an atom as being a large positively charged body that contained small. Thomson and the plum pudding model. the structure of the atom was thought to correspond with the plum pudding model.For more information on the research of J. free-floating. The faulty aspect of this model is that it was construed before the nucleus of an atom (and its composition) was discovered. click here.J. which is where Rutherford's research comes in. In summary. *Note. the plum pudding model was hypothesized by J. .Before Ernest Rutherford's landmark experiment with a few pieces of metal foil and alpha particles. negatively charged particles called electrons.J. The two charges cancel each other causing and cause the electrical charge of the atom to be zero (or neutral).

In accordance to the J. iron. a zinc sulfide screen was placed behind the foil as a backdrop for the alpha particles to appear upon. Also. Rutherford had his two associates (Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden) aim a beam of alpha particles at a piece of gold foil that was approximately 8. the experiment was performed in complete darkness. In order for the light of the alpha particles to be observed.6 x 10^(-6) centimeters thick. Therefore to confirm this activity. Rutherford just explained the results) to observe any contact made between the alpha particles and the screen.J. Thomson model of an atom. but his use of gold foil is most commonly spoke of. to further enhance the accurateness of the observations the experimenter that was charged with looking through the microscope sat in the dark of the lab room for at least one hour before performing the experiment. To be more accurate Rutherford actually included a wide variety of different foils (such as: aluminum. In fact. After the experiment had been set up in accordance to the speculations described above. This was done in order to allow the experimenter's eyes to reach maximum visual acuity. As explained above. and lead). the alpha particles should have passed directly through the gold foil for all instances. an occasional particle even fired right back at the experimenter. the alpha particles corresponded with this hypothesis and passed straight through the gold foil. a small hand full of particles that deflected slightly from the straight path by about one or two degrees. For the most part.000 particles would deflect approximately 90 degrees or more from the parent beam. Geiger and Marsden would fire the beam of alpha particles through the piece of foil and observe the location at which the particles landed on the screen. Rutherford began to notice that alpha particles would not always behave in accordance to the plum pudding model of an atom when fired at a piece of gold foil. however.A large portion of Rutherford's research has always included the use and study of alpha particles ever since he classified them in 1898 (Rutherford's association with alpha particles was discussed here). There were. Perhaps Rutherford described the awe inspiring nature of the discovery best when he said: "It was as if you fired a 15-inch shell at a sheet of tissue paper and . Throughout the course of his experiment. But the biggest discovery was made when 1 in 20. each particle should have gone directly through the foil if the plum pudding model was correct (meaning that an atom was a vast amount of empty space and could easily be passed through by any particle). These observations stimulated further research that was eventually published in 1911 and has been known ever since as Rutherford's Gold Foil Experiment. Directly above this screen was a microscope that allowed one of the two experimenters (only Geiger and Marsden actually performed the experiment. Starting sometime around 1909.

" To help illustrate what Geiger and Marsden observed. .it came back to hit you. a small demonstration is presented below.

The top structure shows how the alpha particles would have passed through the gold foil atoms if the plum pudding model was correct in its assumptions.J. an atom must have a positively charged center that contains most of its mass (which Rutherford termed as the nucleus). Thompson was slightly correct in his assumption that atoms are primarily composed of empty space. positively charged particles. Given below is an illustration that compares the plum pudding model of an atom to what Rutherford observed in his experiment.The results of this experiment gave Rutherford the means to arrive at two conclusions: one.J. Rutherford reasoned that this positively charged center was relatively small in reference to the total size of the atom. the fact that the occasional particle would be deflected by either a small or large margin proved that a portion of an atom was both positively charged (particles of identical charges repel one another while particles of opposite charges attract one another) and relatively heavy by atomic standards. . and two. an atom was much more than just empty space and scattered electrons (J. Since only a small number of alpha particles veered slightly when passed through the foil and since even fewer bounced back at the experiment. Thomson model argued). Since alpha particles are relatively heavy. The bottom structure shows what Rutherford and his collogues observed and is the true depiction of an atom's structure. Therefore J.

Yes another scientist probably would have made the same discovery given the opportunity of a few years. .With the disproof of the plum pudding model and with Rutherford's discovery of an atom's nucleus. the point to grab here is that Rutherford's experiment with gold foil and his discovery of the nucleus had a huge contribution to the development of today's atomic theory(s). much as a planet orbits the sun. Bohr described the hydrogen atom as a nucleus with an electron circling around it. Essentially. putting ideas together is really what science is all about. The problem with Bohr's model is that it only works soundly for the hydrogen atom (this and other facts about Bohr's research and the quantum mechanical model can be found here). Bohr conversed with Rutherford on several occasions and was able to use the knowledge he gained from the encounters to create what is now called the quantum mechanical model of an atom. Even though Bohr's model was not entirely correct in its application. but Rutherford had the intelligence and the incite to put the ideas together when he did. it was now possible for Neils Bohr to construct his model of an atom's structure. To explain briefly.

Refer ences .

org/EducationalSer vices/ chemach/ans/er.nzedge.htm l Images:  Image One: www.html A Young Ernest Rutherford Text:   Image Two: www.rutherford.rutherford.collegeflagsandbanners.html  Images:  Image One: www.htm l   Image Two: http://www. Home Page Text:  .org.