Ernest Rutherford


Ernest Rutherford : biography

30 August 1871 – 19 October 1937

Rutherford’s theory of neutrons was proved in 1932 by his associate James Chadwick, who recognized neutrons immediately when they were produced by other scientists and later himself, in bombarding beryllium with alpha particles. In 1935, Chadwick was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.


Nuclear physics

Rutherford’s research, and work done under him as laboratory director, established the nuclear structure of the atom and the essential nature of radioactive decay as a nuclear process. Rutherford’s team, using natural alpha particles, demonstrated induced nuclear transmutation and transmutation, and later, using protons from an accelerator, demonstrated artificially-induced nuclear reactions and transmutation. He is known as the father of nuclear physics. Rutherford died too early to see Leó Szilárd’s idea of controlled nuclear chain reactions come into being. However, a speech of Rutherford’s about his artificially-induced transmutation in lithium, printed in the 12 September 1933 London paper The Times, was reported by Szilárd to have been his inspiration for thinking of the possibility of a controlled energy-producing nuclear chain reaction. Szilard had this idea while walking in London, on the same day.

Rutherford’s speech touched on the 1932 work of his students John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton in "splitting" lithium into alpha particles by bombardment with protons from a particle accelerator they had constructed. Rutherford realized that the energy released from the split lithium atoms was enormous, but he also realized that the energy needed for the accelerator, and its essential inefficiency in splitting atoms in this fashion, made the project an impossibility as a practical source of energy (accelerator-induced fission of light elements remains too inefficient to be used in this way, even today). Rutherford’s speech in part, read:

Items named in honour of Rutherford’s life and work

Scientific discoveries
  • the element rutherfordium, Rf, Z=104. (1997)
  • Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, a scientific research laboratory near Didcot, Oxfordshire.
  • Rutherford College, Auckland, a school in Auckland, New Zealand
  • Rutherford College, Kent, a college at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England
  • Rutherford Institute for Innovation at the University of Cambridge
  • Rutherford Intermediate School, Wanganui, New Zealand
  • Rutherford Hall, a hall of residence at Loughborough University
  • Rutherford Medal, the highest science medal awarded by the Royal Society of New Zealand
  • Rutherford Award at Thomas Carr College for excellence in Victorian Certificate of Education chemistry, Australia.
  • Rutherford Memorial Medal is an award for research in the fields of physics and chemistry by the Royal Society of Canada.
  • Rutherford Medal and Prize is awarded once every two years by the Institute of Physics for "distinguished research in nuclear physics or nuclear technology".
  • Rutherford Memorial Lecture is an international lecture tour under the auspices of the Royal Society created under the Rutherford Memorial Scheme in 1952.
  • Rutherford building at Bedford Modern School.
  • A building of the modern Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge
  • The Ernest Rutherford Physics Building at McGill University, Montreal
  • Rutherford house, a boarding house at Nelson College
  • Rutherford House, the primary building of Victoria University of Wellington’s Pipitea Campus, originally the headquarters of the New Zealand Electricity Department, in Wellington, New Zealand.
  • The physics and chemistry building at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand
  • The Coupland Building at the University of Manchester, where Rutherford worked, was renamed "The Rutherford Building" in 2006.
  • The Rutherford lecture theatre in the Schuster Laboratory at the University of Manchester
Major streets
  • Rutherford Close, a residential street in Abingdon, Oxfordshire
  • Lord Rutherford Road in Brightwater, New Zealand (near his birthplace)
  • Rutherford Road in the biotechnology district of Carlsbad, California
  • Rutherford Street in Nelson, New Zealand.
  • Rutherford House, at Hillcrest High School, Hamilton, New Zealand
  • Rutherford House, at Rotorua Intermediate School, Rotorua, New Zealand
  • The Rutherford Memorial at Brightwater, New Zealand
  • The crater Rutherford on the Moon, and the crater Rutherford on the planet Mars (planet)
  • His image on the obverse of the New Zealand $100 note (since 1992).
  • Ernest Rutherford was the subject of a play by Stuart Hoar.
  • On the side of the Mond Laboratory on the site of the original Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, there is an engraving in Rutherford’s memory in the form of a crocodile, this being the nickname given to him by its commissioner, his colleague Peter Kapitza.
  • The Rutherford Foundation, a charitable trust set up by the Royal Society of New Zealand to support research in science and technology.. Retrieved on 2011-01-26.