(August 30, 1871 – October 19, 1937)
Nurtured by the distinguished Professors Alexander William Bickerton and Joseph John Thomson, Ernest Rutherford became a superb scientist. Like Enrico Fermi, he excelled in both theory and practicals. His fame stems from ingenious exploits in Nuclear Chemistry and Atomic Physics. Often referred to as the second greatest scientific experimenter (next to Michael Faraday), he was the first person who proved conclusively that radioactivity culminate in the transmutation of elements. He was also the first to apply the term “half life” while chronicling radioactive decays; as well as the first to use the names “alpha particles”, “beta particles” and “gamma rays” in describing those ionizing radiations. His gold foil experiments, which he ran from 1908 to 1913, enabled him to postulate what has become known in Atomic Physics as the Rutherford Model. This is particularly important because its analyses indicated that the previously acclaimed Plum Pudding Model which his erstwhile professor, Joseph John Thomson, postulated in 1904 was wrong. (By the way, it is important to note that the Rutherford’s Gold Foil Experiment is sometimes referred to as Geiger-Marsden Experiment. This is because Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden conducted the experiments, while Rutherford directed and supervised them. He also supervised James Chadwick when Chadwick discovered neutrons). Apart from the aforementioned, several students he tutored and mentored later ranked amongst 20th century’s greatest scientists. Notable among these are: Niels Bohr, Otto Hahn, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton. In his honor, the IUPAC named the synthetic radioactive element with atomic number of 104, rutherfordium, in 1997.