(August 30, 1871 – October 19, 1937)

Ernest Rutherford was an avid experimenter who excelled in both theoretical and practical works. His repute stems from exploits in Nuclear Chemistry and Atomic Physics. Many Anglophones regard him as their second greatest experimenter (next to Michael Faraday). He was nurtured by Alexander William Bickerton and Joseph John Thomson, and became the first person to conclusively prove that radioactivity result 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 “alpha particles”, “beta particles” and “gamma rays” in describing each of those ionizing radiations. His Gold Foil Experiments, which he ran from 1908 to 1913, enabled him 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 worth noting that 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. His works complemented both Henri Becquerel’s before him and Enrico Fermi’s after him. Apart from the aforementioned, other students he tutored later became 20th century’s top scientists. These include: Niels Bohr, Otto Hahn, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton. Both the 13-kilometer-wide Rutherford lunar crater and the Rutherfordium synthetic element are named after him.

22 Comments

  1. Worked with Rutherford and elevated Crooke’s suggestion of isotopes into a theory. In 1913, Hevesy and Paneth provided evidence that isotopes chemically behave the same.

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