Biography of Ernest Rutherford

One of the greatest physicists in history, Ernest Rutherford is considered the father of nuclear physics.

Childhood and early years

Ernest Rutherford was born August 30, 1871 in the village of Spring Grove near Nelson, New Zealand, in the family of a farmer James Rutherford and his wife Martha Thomson.

At birth, Ernest, by mistake, recorded under the name of Ernest. As a child Ernest goes to the school of Havelock, after which he continues his studies at the college in Nelson. He works hard to enroll in Canterbury College, a former division of the University of New Zealand. In college Ernest Rutherford becomes the head of the discussion club and takes an active part in student life.

At Canterbury College, Rutherford graduates with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in humanities, and a bachelor of science, after which, for two years, he has been enthusiastically engaged in research in the field of electrical engineering. In 1895, he went to England to raise the level of education, where from 1895 to 1898 he worked at the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. He makes a significant breakthrough in finding the distance, which determines the length of the electromagnetic wave.

Proceedings, research and contribution to science

In 1898, Rutherford changed Hugh Longbourne Callendar to the post of professor of physics, founded thanks to the patronage of William McDonald, at McGill University. It is here that Rutherford will reach the heights of its research activities. His work at McGill University will be crowned with the receipt in 1908 of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Rutherford is engaged in in-depth studies and practical study of the phenomenon of radioactivity. During this period, in 1899, he introduced the concepts of alpha and beta particles. This type of radiation radiation the scientist describes as two distinct types of radiation of the particle flux by the elements of thorium and uranium. Based on their penetrating ability, Rutherford clearly articulates the differences of these radiation beams.

In 1900, at the University of New Zealand, he received his Ph. D. From 1900 to 1903, a young researcher, Frederick Soddy, joined Rutherford’s research project on transmuting elements at McGill University.

Rutherford discovers and accurately describes that radiation is a consequence of the spontaneous decomposition of atoms. The scientist observes in great detail, and subsequently describes that a sample of radioactive material requires a certain time to reduce its radioactivity by a factor of 2. This time Rutherford calls a “half-life”. This discovery will later be applied in practice: taking the uniform rate of substance decay as a unit of measurement, the age of the planet Earth will be determined, which is much older than the age assumed by scientists of that time.

In 1903, Rutherford discovers that the radiation emitted by the anonymous radium has a distinctive feature not previously described. He also notes that a new type of radiation has a large penetrating ability, and, without losing time, gives it an independent name for “gamma radiation.” In 1907, Rutherford was appointed to the post of Professor of Physics at Manchester University. In Manchester, the scientist continues to work with alpha radiation. Together with Hans Geiger, he develops a zinc-sulphide reflective screen and an ionization chamber designed to count...the number of alpha particles.

In 1907, Rutherford, together with Thomas Royds, conducts a chemical experiment involving the passage of alpha rays through a narrow window into a vacuum tube. The rays invariably produce a spark discharge in the tube, resulting in a spectrum that changes its nature in the same way as the alpha rays accumulated in the tube. Further, the experiment shows how a pure spectrum of the helium gas begins to form. From this it follows that alpha rays almost do not ionize atoms, or rather nuclei of atoms, helium.

In 1909, he joins forces with Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden and conducts the Geiger-Marsden experiment, aimed at discovering and demonstrating the true nuclear nature of atoms. The experiment is conducted to obtain clearly formulated results on the properties of alpha particles. Rutherford suggests that Geiger and Marsden get a deflection of alpha particles at large angles. The desired deviations were found, but they were of a single character and an even, clearly-organized function of the deflection angle. The interpretation and results of this experiment in 1911 pour out into the representation of the model of the Rutherford atom. According to his theory, even a small positively charged core has electrons rotating around it. In 1919, Rutherford went to the Cavendish Laboratory, where he conducted an experiment on the transmutation of one substance into another, transforming by means of a nuclear reaction nitrogen into oxygen. This experience, he carried out together with Niels Bohr, putting forward the theory of the existence of neutrons and their alleged property to compensate for the repulsive property of positively charged protons, generating a force of nuclear attraction that keeps the nucleus from decay.

In 1932, this theory of the existence of neutrons is proved by James Chadwick, who in 1935 received the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.

Personal life

In 1900, Rutherford married Maria Georgina Newton. They have a daughter, Eileen Maria.

Awards and honors

In 1908, Rutherford received the Nobel Prize for revolutionary discoveries and successful studies of the decay of substances and the chemical properties of radioactive substances resulting from it. In 1914, Rutherford was knighted. In 1916, the scientist was awarded a medal named after Sir James Hector. In 1919, Rutherford returned to the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, where he was appointed to head the laboratory. At this time, he became the scientific mentor of a number of researchers – James Chadwick, John Douglas Cockcroft, Edward Victor Appleton and Thomas Sinton Walton, each of whom received the Nobel Prize for work in the field of atomic reactions, neutron discoveries, visual demonstrations and chemical experiments on elementary particles and the ionosphere. In 1925, Rutherford was awarded an honorary order “For Merit” before the UK. In 1931 he received the honorary title of Baron Rutherford of Nelson and Cambridge in the county of Cambridge.

After death, Rutherford is honored to be buried in Westminster Abbey, next to JJ Thomson and Sir Isaac Newton.


Ernest Rutherford suffered umbilical hernia, and operate it, as a sign of special honor, should only titled surgeon. Because of the long search for a suitable candidate, time was missed, and on October 19, 1937, at the hospital, Rutherford died suddenly.

Biography of Ernest Rutherford