Ernest Rutherford (30 August 1871 –19 October 1937) was a New Zealand chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. After his death, he was honoured by being interred with the greatest scientists of the United Kingdom, near Sir Isaac Newton's tomb in Westminster Abbey.
During his lifetime Rutherford was awarded many scientific prizes and honorary degrees from many countries and Fellowships of many societies and organisations (such as the Royal College of Physicians and the Institution of Electrical Engineers). Among other honours he was elected President of the Royal Society (1926-30), President of the Institute of Physics (1931-3) and was decorated with the Order of Merit (1925).
With the advent of World War I, Rutherford turned his attention to antisubmarine research. By 1919 he had made another monumental discovery: how to artificially induce a nuclear reaction in a stable element.
According to him practically the whole mass of the atom and at the same time all positive charge of the atom is concentrated in a minute space at the centre. In 1912 Niels Bohr joined him at Manchester and he adapted Rutherford's nuclear structure to Max Planck's quantum theory and so obtained a theory of atomic structure which, with later improvements, mainly as a result of Heisenberg's concepts, remains valid to this day.
Among his endless contributions to atomic theory, Rutherford explained a curious phenomenon. When fired at an extremely thin sheet of gold foil, some alpha particles scattered at surprising angles.
A few even bounced straight back at the observer, which Rutherford said was as unexpected as firing a cannon shell at tissue paper and having it come back and hit you.
The answer, Rutherford wrote, is that “the atom consists of a central charge” that is “concentrated at a point” — a point soon called the nucleus.
In 1909 he began experiments that were to change the face of physics. He discovered the atomic nucleus and developed a model of the atom that was similar to the solar system. Like planets, electrons orbited a central, sun-like nucleus.
The most significant collaboration was between Rutherford and Frederick Soddy, a young English chemist who was appointed Demonstrator in Chemistry at McGill in 1900. The collaboration between Rutherford and Soddy lasted only 18 months, from October 1901 to March 1903, but resulted in nine important papers, including "The cause and nature of radioactivity," published in two parts in 1902.
Rutherford began his graduate work by studying the effect of x-rays on various materials. Shortly after the discovery of radioactivity, he turned to the study of the -particles emitted by uranium metal and its compounds.
Before he could study the effect of -particles on matter, Rutherford had to develop a way of counting individual -particles. He found that a screen coated with zinc sulfide emitted a flash of light each time it was hit by an -particle.
He elected to work with Professor J J Thomson of Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory and was Cambridge University's first non-Cambridge-graduate research student. Rutherford adapted his detector of very fast transient currents for use as a frequency meter and used it to measure the dielectric properties of electrical insulators.
Rutherford deflected alpha rays with both electric and magnetic fields in 1903. He also observed that the intensity of radioactivity Eric Weisstein's World of Physics fell off with time, and named the halving time the "half-life.
In 1894, still at Canterbury, Rutherford conducted independent research on the ability of high-frequency electrical discharge to magnetize iron. His research earned him a Bachelor of Science degree in just one year’s time.
Early on he found that all known radioactive elements emit two kinds of radiation: positively and negatively charged, or alpha and beta. He showed that every radioactive element decreases in radioactivity over a unique and regular time, or half-life, ultimately becoming stable.
Born on a farm in New Zealand, the fourth of 12 children, Rutherford completed a degree at the University of New Zealand and began teaching unruly schoolboys. He was released from this task by a scholarship to Cambridge University