Ernest Rutherford (August 30, 1871 – October 19, 1937), also known by his title The Right Honorable Lord Rutherford of Nelson, First Baron Rutherford of Nelson, was a British physicist born in New Zealand. the father of nuclear physics.
Rutherford’s mother, Martha Thompson, also moved to New Zealand from England when she was also still a child.
Rutherford was born in New Zealand’s Tasman district to James and Martha Thompson Rutherford.
Ernest Rutherford was the fourth child and second son of his proud parents.
While still in college at Canterbury (University of New Zealand), he invented a new type of radio receiver and was awarded a research fellowship.
This fellowship, bestowed by the Royal Commission, allowed him to attend graduate school at the University of Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.
His work at Cavendish included research that allowed him to identify radio waves from over half a mile, which was a world record at that time for electromagnetic wave detection.
He lost this distinction in 1896 to Marconi.
In 1898, Rutherford was awarded the opportunity to become a physics professor at McGill University in Montreal.
In 1934 Rutherford, Australian physicist Mark Oliphant, and German physical chemist Paul Harteck bombarded deuterium with deuterons, producing tritium in the first fusion reaction.
He returned to England in 1907 to head the physics department at University of Manchester.
He was politically liberal but not politically active, although he did chair the advisory council of the government’s Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and was president (from 1933 until his death) of the Academic Assistance Council (and its successor organization, the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning), an organization designed to aid scientists who had fled Nazi Germany.
After returning to Cavendish in 1919 as department chair, several Nobel prizes were awarded to researchers in his department for different contributions to physics.
Ernest Rutherford died in Cambridge following a short illness and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Rutherford served as President of the Royal Society before becoming president of the Academic Assistance Council. This council was responsible for securing almost 1,000 refugee students from universities in Germany.
Ernest Rutherford was also a member of the Admiralty’s Board of Invention and Research.
The work that Rutherford both did and oversaw in his various academic leadership roles is responsible for the current understanding of the nuclear level structure of atoms. Under his leadership over his students, the first experiment in splitting an atom was a success, as was the discovery of the neutron.
A lesser-known fact about Ernest Rutherford was his love for cars and golf in his spare time.
Element 104, rutherfordium, is named after him.
Another interesting fact about Ernest Rutherford is his contribution to the invention of the Geiger counter. He worked with the German physicist Hans Geiger, who the device is named after, to develop an electrical counter for ionized particles.
Despite his designation as the father of nuclear physics, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908.
Just after Rutherford was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, he was approached to contribute to the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Within this edition of the world-renowned reference compendium, Rutherford wrote the entry for radioactivity.
He is believed to be the only Nobel Prize recipient to conduct his most famous research after earning the Prize for a different line of research.
Another fact about Rutherford you need to know is that he was part of a team that first demonstrated the existence of the atomic nucleus.
Rutherford was knighted in 1914 for his contributions in science, and inducted as a member of the Order of Merit. These titles expired upon his death.
Another interesting fact that you need to know about Ernest Rutherford is that he was the first to coin the terms “Alpha” and “Beta” when describing types of radiation. in 1899, he was studying the absorption of radioactivity by thin sheets of metal foil.