Rutherford Ernest: biography, discoveries and interesting facts

Ernest Rutherford (photo below), Baron Rutherford Nelson and Cambridge (born 08/30/1871 in Spring Grove, New Zealand - died on 10/19/1937 in Cambridge, England) is a British physicist from New Zealand who is considered the greatest experimenter from the time of Michael Faraday (1791-1867). He was a central figure in the study of radioactivity, and his concept of the structure of the atom dominated nuclear physics. He became the winner of the Nobel Prize in 1908, was president of the Royal Society (1925–1930) and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1923). In 1925 he was admitted to the Order of Merit and in 1931 he was awarded the title of Peer, received the title of Lord Nelson.

Ernest Rutherford: a brief biography in the early years of life

Ernest James’s father in the middle of the 19th century moved his child from Scotland to New Zealand, which was only recently settled by Europeans, where he was engaged in agriculture.Rutherford's mother, Martha Thompson, came from England as a teenager and worked as a schoolteacher until she married and had ten children, of whom Ernest was the fourth (and second son).

Ernest studied at free public schools until 1886, when he won a scholarship to study at Nelson Private High School. The gifted student excelled in almost every subject, but especially in mathematics. Another scholarship helped Rutherford enroll in 1890 at Canterbury College, one of the four campuses of the University of New Zealand. It was a small educational institution, with a staff of only eight teachers, but there were less than 300 students. The young talent was fortunate enough to have excellent teachers who ignited his interest in scientific research, supported by reliable evidence.

Rutherford Ernest

After completing a three-year training course, Ernest Rutherford became a bachelor and won a scholarship for a year of study at Canterbury Graduate School. Completing it at the end of 1893, he received a Master of Arts degree - the first degree in physics, mathematics and mathematical physics.He was asked to stay for another year in Christchurch for independent experiments. Rutherford's study of the ability of a high-frequency electrical discharge, for example, from a capacitor, to magnetize iron at the end of 1894 brought him a bachelor of science degree. During this period, he fell in love with Mary Newton, the daughter of a woman in whose house he settled. They were married in 1900. In 1895, Rutherford received a scholarship named after the 1851 World's Fair in London. He decided to continue his research at the Cavendish Laboratory, which JJ Thomson, a leading European expert in the field of electromagnetic radiation, headed in 1884.


In recognition of the growing importance of science, the University of Cambridge changed its rules, allowing graduates of other universities to receive a diploma after two years of study and performing acceptable scientific work. The first research student was Rutherford. Ernest, besides demonstrating magnetization by oscillating discharge of iron, found that the needle loses some of its magnetization in a magnetic field created by an alternating current. This made it possible to create a detector of newly discovered electromagnetic waves. In 1864Scottish theoretical physicist James Clerk Maxwell predicted their existence, and in 1885-1889. German physicist Heinrich Hertz discovered them in his laboratory. The Rutherford radio wave detection device was simpler and had a commercial potential. The following year, the young scientist spent in the Cavendish Laboratory, increasing the range and sensitivity of the device, which could receive signals at a distance of half a mile. However, Rutherford lacked the intercontinental vision and entrepreneurial skills of the Italian Guglielmo Marconi, who invented the wireless telegraph in 1896.

Ernest Rutherford

Ionization studies

X-rays were discovered in Germany by Wilhelm Conrad X-rays only a few months after Rutherford appeared in Cavendish. Everyone was very interested in the ability to take pictures of the bones of a living person. Scientists wanted to learn more about the properties of the miracle rays and what they are, and Rutherford was among those curious. Ernest could not refuse Thomson's honorary invitation to participate in the study of how X-rays change the conductivity of gases.The result was the classic work on ionization - the separation of atoms or molecules into positive and negative parts (ions) and the attraction of charged particles to electrodes of opposite polarity.

Radiation studies

Thomson then began to study the charge-to-mass ratio of the most common ion, which later became known as an electron, while Rutherford studied other types of radiation that produced ions. He turned to ultraviolet light, and then to the radiation emitted by uranium, which was first discovered in 1896 by the French physicist Henri Becquerel. Placing uranium near a thin foil allowed Rutherford to understand that radiation was more complex than previously thought: one of its forms was easily absorbed or blocked by a very thin layer of metal, but the other often penetrated through it. For simplicity, he called these types of radiation "alpha" and "beta", respectively. Later it was found that α-particles correspond to the nucleus of the helium atom and consist of two protons and two neutrons, while β-particles are an electron or its positive variant positron. Over the next few years, the study of this radiation was of primary interest, and then the attention of science shifted to radioactive elements.

Ernest Rutherford photo

McGill University

How did the life and career of such a scientist as Ernest Rutherford continue? Biography Physics says that he was soon offered a post as a professor at McGill University in Canada in Montreal, who could boast of one of the best-equipped laboratories in the Western Hemisphere. Turning his attention to one of several then known radioactive elements, he and his colleague discovered that thorium releases a gaseous product, which the scientist called "emanation." He, in turn, left solid deposits, which were soon converted to thorium A, B, C, etc. It is curious that after chemical treatment some substances lost their radioactive properties, but eventually recovered them, while others materials, initially strong, gradually lost activity. This led to the concept of half-life - the time interval required for the decay of half of the atomic nuclei of a sample, ranging from a few seconds to billions of years, unique to each radioactive element and, therefore, an excellent means of identifying them.

ernest rutherford interesting facts of life

Theory of Transformations

Rutherford needed the help of a chemical expert to cope with the increasing number of radioactive elements. He drew Frederick Soddy from McGill, Bertram Borden Boltwood, a professor at Yale University, and Otto Hahn, a researcher from Germany. From Soddy in 1902–1903 he developed a transformation theory explaining the phenomenon of radioactivity. Alchemy, with its attempts to turn lead into gold, has long been banished from modern chemistry. Atoms were considered stable. But Rutherford and Soddy argued that the energy of radioactivity emanates from them, and the spontaneous emission of α- or β-particles means the chemical transformation of one element into another. They expected this iconoclastic theory to be refuted, but the authority of many experimental evidence suppressed the opposition.

It was soon found that radioactive elements are divided into three rows, headed by uranium, thorium and actinium, and all of them lead to the formation of inactive lead. Boltwood placed radium in the uranium group and, following Rutherford's advice, used a slowly increasing amount of lead in the mineral to show that the rocks are billions of years old.The latter believed that the alpha particle having a tangible mass plays a key role in the transformation of elements. He determined that it carries a positive charge, but could not determine whether it is a hydrogen or helium ion.

Married and famous

In McGill, Ernest Rutherford (photo shown in the article) married his beloved from New Zealand and became famous. He invited many research students to his laboratory, including women, when very few women were engaged in science. The physicist Ernest Rutherford was a popular lecturer and author of newspaper and magazine articles. In 1904, he also wrote a leading textbook on radioactivity. He received awards, membership in the Royal Society of London and the inevitable offers of cooperation.

ernest rutherford biography

University of Manchester

In North America there was a good scientific community, but the world center of physics was in Europe. Ernest Rutherford, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which was awarded for his work in Montreal in 1908, a year earlier joined the department of the University of Manchester, whose laboratory was second only to Cavendish.

Together with the German physicist Hans Geiger, Ernest Rutherford created an electric counter of ionized particles. Improved by Geiger, the meter has become a universal instrument for measuring radioactivity. Thanks to the skill of the glassblower, Rutherford and his pupil Thomas Royds identified some α-particles and performed their spectrochemical analysis, which proved that they are helium ions. Then Boltwood visited the laboratory of the University of Manchester, and together with the New Zealand physicist they specified the rate of helium formation from radium, from which they calculated the exact value of Avogadro's number.

Without leaving his long-time fascination with alpha particles, Rutherford studied their small scattering after interacting with foil. Geiger joined him and they got more meaningful data. In 1909, when undergraduate Ernest Marsden was looking for a topic for his research project, Ernest invited him to study large scattering angles. Marsden found that a small number of α-particles deviated by more than 90 ° from their original direction, prompting Rutherford to exclaim that it was almost as incredible,as if a 15-inch projectile launched into a sheet of tissue paper would bounce back and hit the gunman.

Ernest Rutherford Discoveries

Atom model

Reflecting on how such a heavy charged particle can be deflected by electrostatic attraction or repulsion at such a large angle, in 1944 Rutherford came to the conclusion that an atom cannot be a homogeneous solid. In his opinion, it consisted mainly of empty space and a tiny nucleus in which all its mass was concentrated. Rutherford Ernest atomic model is confirmed by numerous experimental evidence. She became his greatest scientific contribution, but outside of Manchester she received little attention. In 1913, however, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr showed the importance of this discovery. A year earlier, he visited Rutherford’s laboratory and returned to it as a faculty member in 1914–1916. Radioactivity, he explained, is in the nucleus, while chemical properties are determined by orbital electrons. The model of the Bohr atom gave rise to a new concept of quanta (or discrete energy values) in the electrodynamics of orbits, and he explained spectral lines as the release or absorption of energy by electrons as they move from one orbit to another.Henry Mosley, another one of Rutherford’s many students, likewise explained the sequence of the X-ray spectrum of the elements by nuclear charge. Thus, a new coherent picture of the physics of the atom was developed.

Submarines and nuclear reaction

World War I devastated the laboratory run by Ernest Rutherford. Interesting facts from the life of a physicist during this period concern his participation in the development of means to combat submarines, as well as membership in the Admiralty Council for Inventions and Scientific Research. When he took the time to return to his previous scientific work, he began studying the collision of alpha particles with gases. In the case of hydrogen, as expected, the detector recorded the formation of individual protons. But protons also arose when bombarding nitrogen atoms. In 1919, Ernest Rutherford discovered the discovery with another: he managed to artificially provoke a nuclear reaction in a stable element.

physicist ernest rutherford

Return to Cambridge

Nuclear reactions occupied the scientist throughout his career, which took place again in Cambridge, where in 1919 Thomson's successor as director of the Cavendish Laboratory of the University and became Rutherford.Ernest brought here his colleague at the University of Manchester - physicist James Chadwick. Together, they bombarded alpha particles with a series of light elements and caused nuclear transformations. But they could not penetrate into the heavier nuclei, since the α-particles repelled from them due to the same charge, and the scientists could not determine whether it happened separately or together with the target. In both cases, more advanced technology was required.

Higher energies in particle accelerators needed to solve the first problem became available in the late 1920s. In 1932, Rutherford’s two students — the Englishman John Cockroft and the Irishman Ernest Walton — were the first to actually bring about a nuclear transformation. Using a high-voltage linear accelerator, they bombarded lithium with protons and split it into two α-particles. For this work they received the 1951 Nobel Prize in Physics. Scotsman Charles Wilson in Cavendish created a foggy camera that gave visual confirmation of the trajectory of charged particles, for which he was awarded the same prestigious international award in 1927. In 1924, the English physicist Patrick Blackkett modified the Wilson chamber,to photograph about 400,000 alpha collisions and found that most of them were normal elastic, and 8 were accompanied by decay, in which the α-particle was absorbed by the target nucleus before splitting it into two fragments. This was an important step in understanding nuclear reactions, for which Blackett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1948.

Neutron discovery and thermonuclear fusion

Cavendish has become the venue for other interesting works. The existence of the neutron was predicted by Rutherford in 1920. After a long search, in 1932, Chadwick discovered this neutral particle, proving that the nucleus consists of neutrons and protons, and his colleague, English physicist Norman Feder, soon showed that neutrons can cause nuclear reactions easier than charged particles. Working with donated recently discovered heavy water in the USA, in 1934 Rutherford, Mark Oliphant from Australia and Paul Hartek from Austria bombarded deuterium with deuterons and conducted the first thermonuclear fusion.

ernest rutherford brief biography

Life outside physics

The scientist had several hobbies that are not related to science, which included golf and motor racing. Ernest Rutherford, in short,adhered to liberal convictions, but was not politically active, although he served as chairman of the expert council of the government's Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and was the president for life (since 1933) of the Academic Assistance Council, created to help scientists fleeing Nazi Germany. In 1931 he became a peer, but this event was overshadowed by the death of his daughter, who died eight days earlier. An eminent scientist died in Cambridge after a short illness and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

Ernest Rutherford: interesting facts

  • He studied at the University of New Zealand University of Canterbury for a scholarship, received a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and also spent two years developing the new radio receiver.
  • Ernest Rutherford was the first graduate to graduate from Cambridge who was allowed to conduct research at the Cavendish Laboratory under the direction of Sir J. J. Thomson.
  • During the First World War, he worked on solving practical problems of detecting submarines.
  • At McGill University in Canada, Ernest Rutherford, along with chemist Frederick Soddy, created the theory of atomic decay.
  • At the University of Victoria in Manchester, he and Thomas Royds proved that alpha radiation consists of helium ions.
  • Rutherford's research on the decay of elements and radioactive substances brought him the Nobel Prize in 1908.
  • His most famous experiment Geiger - Marsden, which demonstrated the nuclear nature of the atom, the physicist conducted after receiving the award of the Swedish Academy.
  • The 104th chemical element is named after him - rutherford, which in the USSR and the Russian Federation until 1997 was called Kurchatovia.

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