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Ernest Rutherford was a New Zealand-born British physicist. He was known for being the father of nuclear physics and for his contributions in the study of radioactivity, especially in the discovery of the atomic nucleus, the proton, the alpha particle, and the beta particle.
See the fact file below for more information on the Ernest Rutherford or alternatively, you can download our 22-page Ernest Rutherford worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY
- Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871, in Nelson, New Zealand.
- He was the fourth child and second son of James Rutherford and Martha Thompson.
- James Rutherford was a Scottish wheelwright who immigrated to New Zealand with his father and family in 1842. Martha Thompson was an English schoolteacher who also immigrated to New Zealand in 1855 with her mother.
- Ernest Rutherford attended Havelock School, a government school in Havelock village in the Marlborough region of New Zealand.
- At the age of 16, Rutherford attended Nelson College, where he won a scholarship to study at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand.
- Rutherford was an active member of a debate society and played rugby while he attended university.
- Rutherford earned his Master of Arts (M.A) degree in 1893, with first-class honors in Mathematics, Physical Science, and Mathematical Physics.
- In 1894, he received his B.Sc.
- During this period, Rutherford met and fell in love with Mary Newton, only daughter of Arthur and Mary de Renzy Newton. Rutherford would go on to marry Newton in 1900.
- In 1895, Rutherford was awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851. This enabled him to attend Trinity College, University of Cambridge, as a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory under the leadership of J.J. Thomson.
- With Thomson’s encouragement, Rutherford managed to detect radio waves at half a mile.
- In 1897, Rutherford was awarded the B.A. Research Degree and the Coutts-Trotter Studentship of Trinity College.
- In 1898, Rutherford left for Canada to take on a position when the Macdonald Chair of Physics at McGill University, Montreal, became vacant.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCHES AND DISCOVERIES
- While Rutherford was in Cambridge, he and J.J. Thomson worked on the conductive effects of X-rays on gases.
- They later discovered the electron, which Thomson presented to the world in 1897.
- Rutherford then explored uranium’s radioactivity, which led to the discovery of two types of radioactive rays that are different from X-rays in terms of their penetrating power.
- The first type was easily absorbed or blocked by a very thin foil, while the second type often penetrated the same thin foils.
- He named them alpha and beta, respectively.
- While he was at McGill university, he and a colleague found that thorium emits a gaseous radioactive product, which he then called “emanation.”
- Rutherford also discovered that, after chemical treatment, some radioelements lose their radioactivity but eventually regain it.
- Meanwhile, other materials that are initially strong gradually lose their activity. This discovery led to the concept of half-life.
- From 1902 to 1903, Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, a demonstrator at McGill, developed the transformation theory, or disintegration theory, as an explanation for radioactivity.
- They published their “Law of Radioactive Change” in 1903, which talked about all their experiments.
- Rutherford also named the gamma ray in 1903.
- In 1907, Rutherford was offered a chair at the University of Manchester.
- In 1908, Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances.
- Shortly after winning the Nobel Prize, Rutherford wrote the entry on radioactivity for the 11th edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Rutherford and his student, Thomas Royds, were able to isolate some alpha particles and perform a spectrochemical analysis that proved the particles were helium ions.
- Rutherford and Hans Geiger, a German physicist, developed an electrical counter for ionized particles, which later became the universal tool for measuring radioactivity, the Geiger counter.
- Rutherford then studied the slight scattering of alpha particles as they hit the foil, which is known as the gold foil experiment.
- In 1909, Ernest Marsden, an undergraduate student, followed the suggestion of Rutherford to study large-angle scattering.
- Marsden found that a small number of alphas were turned more than 90 degrees from their original direction.
- In 1911, Rutherford conceived that the atom could not be a uniform solid but rather consisted mostly of empty spaces.
- Rutherford’s insight later became the Rutherford Atomic Model, which describes the structure of atoms. In this model, Rutherford described the atom as a tiny, dense, positively charged core called a nucleus, in which most of its mass is concentrated. Around it are negative constituents called electrons circulating at some distance.
- The Rutherford Atomic Model is considered to be Rutherford’s greatest scientific contribution.
- During World War I, Rutherford worked on a top secret project to solve the problems of submarine detection by sonar.
- In 1916, Rutherford received the Hector Memorial Medal.
- In 1919, Rutherford was able to artificially provoke a nuclear reaction in a stable element.
- In 1926, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) was formed after Rutherford pushed the Government of New Zealand to support education and research.
- Rutherford served as President of the Royal Society from 1925 to 1930, and he later served as president of the Academic Assistance Council.
- He was then appointed to the Order of Merit in the 1925 New Year Honours and was raised to the rank of Baron Rutherford of Nelson in 1931.
- In 1933, Rutherford received the T. K. Sidey Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand, an award given to outstanding scientific researchers.
- Before his death, Rutherford had a small hernia, an abnormal exit of tissue or organ, which he neglected.
- On October 19, 1937, Rutherford died despite having an emergency operation four days prior for what the physicians termed “intestinal paralysis.”
- Rutherford’s body was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium.
- Rutherford was given the high honors of burial in Westminster Abbey, near Isaac Newton and other British scientists.
HONORS AND AWARDS
- 1908 – Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances
- 1910 – Elliot Cresson Medal for his “distinguished work in electrical theory”
- 1914 – Matteucci Medal for his brilliant work in the field of physics
- 1922 – Copley Medal for his research in radioactivity and atomic structure
- Order of Merit (Civil Badge) in the New Year’s Honours List for 1925.
Ernest Rutherford Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Ernest Rutherford across 22 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Ernest Rutherford worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about Ernest Rutherford who was a New Zealand-born British physicist. He was known for being the father of nuclear physics and for his contributions in the study of radioactivity, especially in the discovery of the atomic nucleus, the proton, the alpha particle, and the beta particle.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Ernest Rutherford Facts
- Who’s Ernest Rutherford?
- Track His Life
- Test Yourself!
- Name Them
- Rutherford’s Model
- Three Particles
- Penetrating Powers
- Atomic Models
- Letter to ER
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