What was Ernest Rutherford famous for

Sir Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson, OM (born August 30, 1871 in Brightwater near Nelson / New Zealand; † October 19, 1937 in Cambridge) was a New Zealand atomic physicist who worked scientifically in England and who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. He was Baron Rutherford of Nelson since 1931.


Rutherford studied at Canterbury College, now the University of Canterbury. From 1898 to 1907 he worked at McGill University in Montréal (Canada). He then began to teach at the University of Manchester in England, where he worked with future Nobel Prize winners such as Niels Bohr and Patrick Blackett, Baron Blackett, among others. In 1919 he went to Cambridge as a professor, where he was director of the Cavendish Laboratory. His book appeared in 1921 About the core structure of the atoms. He was knighted in 1914 and made a baron in 1931. From 1925 to 1930 he was President of the Royal Society. Lord Rutherford was buried in Westminster Abbey in London near the grave of Isaac Newton. In 1997 the element 104 was named in his honor Rutherfordium named, as well as the asteroid (1249) Rutherfordia.


Rutherford is considered one of the most important experimental physicists. As early as 1897 he recognized that the ionizing radiation of uranium consists of several types of particles.

In 1902 he hypothesized that chemical elements change into elements with a lower atomic number through radioactive decay. In 1903 he divided the radioactivity into alpha radiation, beta radiation and gamma radiation according to the positive, negative or neutral deflection of the radiation particles in a magnetic field and introduced the term half-life. This work was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. His best-known contribution to atomic physics is Rutherford's atomic model, which he derived from his experiments in scattering alpha particles on gold foil in 1911. Rutherford refuted Thomson's atomic model, who had assumed an even mass distribution.

After that he was the first to prove experimentally (1919) that by irradiation with alpha particles one atomic nucleus (in his case nitrogen) can be converted into another (in his case oxygen). During these experiments he discovered the proton.

Under his guidance, John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton "smashed" an atomic nucleus with artificially accelerated particles for the first time; Lithium bombarded with protons split into two alpha particles, i.e. helium nuclei. Another scientist in Cambridge, James Chadwick, succeeded in 1932 in experimentally demonstrating the neutron, which Rutherford had theoretically postulated years earlier.


  • Ball, Philip: Brilliant Thinkers, Bold Pioneers - Ten Breakthrough Discoveries. Wiley-VCH, Weinheim 2007, ISBN 978-3-527-31680-9

Categories: Nobel Prize Winners in Chemistry | Chemist (20th century)