Traveling with the Atom

Allegheny College


The crocodile at the old Cavendish in Cambridge; it was carved in Rutherford's honor.  Click here for more information
Ernest Rutherford
British physicist
(1871 - 1937)

Compiled by Dr. Glen E. Rodgers

Schematic of Rutherford's alpha-scattering device.  Alpha particles come from point R, hit foil F and collected on a ZnS phosphor at S.  Click here for more details
Contribution to the Development of the Atomic Concept
Ernest Rutherford was born in New Zealand.  He received a scholarship to study at Cambridge University in England.  There he investigated the rays coming from radioactive materials, and, along with the Curies, decided that they were of two main types, alpha and beta.  After spending eight years at McGill University in Canada where he and Frederick Soddy worked on a theory of radioactive disintegration, Rutherford moved to the University of Manchester where, in 1910, he discovered the atomic nucleus by analyzing Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden's results when alpha particles are directed toward a thin sheet of gold metal.  He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 for "his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances." In 1917, still at Manchester, he bombarded nitrogen with alpha particles producing oxygen and hydrogen.  This was the first successful transmutation of one element into another. In 1919 he returned to Cambridge University to become the director of the Cavendish Laboratory of Physics.  Here he predicted the existence of the neutron and (with Marcus Oliphant) discovered tritium.

Web Sources of Biographical Information
Rutherford (John Campbell)
Science Museum (London)
Nobel Prize Website biographical sketch
The Scattering of the Alpha and Beta Rays and the Structure of the Atom, by Ernest Rutherford

Selected Biographical Books, Sections of Books, and Articles
Full biographical information on Sacks' book Uncle Tungsten p 282; 288-290
Full biographical information on Asimov's Biographical Encyclopedia of Science and Technology, 2nd Ed.  pp 635-637
Ernest Rutherford, Architect of the Atom, by Peter Kelman (Hardcover - January 1994)  Rutherford: recollections of the Cambridge days
by Mark Oliphant

Some Scientific/Historical Traveling Sites
Rutherford birthplace (plaque) The Rutherford Birthplace is alongside State Highway 6, at Brightwater some 20km from Nelson towards the West Coast, New Zealand.  (Site has a locator map)
The Foxhill Memorial is a roadside display outside the Rutherford Memorial Hall next to the Foxhill School.  Rutherford's family lived across the road and his birthplace is nearby. Foxhill, New Zealand (Site has a locator map)
The Rutherford Den is the tiny room where Ernest Rutherford did his early scientific research, as a student at Canterbury College, New Zealand.  A new visitor centre has been created with Rutherford’s Den as its centrepiece.  Clock Tower, Arts Centre, Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch, New Zealand (Site has a locator map)
McGill's Rutherford Museum. This museum houses the world's best collection of Rutherford apparatus.  There is also a small amount of correspondence, photographs and information relating to Rutherford. First floor of the Physics Department, McGill University
845 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal,  Quebec   H3A 2T5
Open by appointment only, Monday to Friday.
The laboratory where Rutherford carried out the first successful nuclear transmutation*(2).  A plaque on the nearby main road, at the corner of Coupland and Oxford Streets. Old Schultz Hall, Manchester University.  The Old Schultz now houses the psychology and sociology department.  According to Tanford and Reynolds (2), Rutherford's laboratory still exists; a porter will show it to you upon request.
Historically oriented display in the entrance foyer of the present Schultz Hall features a display of photographs during Rutherford's time at Manchester.*(2) Department of Physics and Astronomy, Manchester University, Brunswick Street, Manchester, England
The Museum at the Cavendish Laboratory.  A small but wonderfully engaging museum on the first floor of the Bragg building has a number of exhibits including Rutherford's alpha-particle scattering experiment and biographical information* (1,2,3) The Cavendish Laboratory
Madingley Road
Cambridge, England
(Need to make arrangements in advance to see the small museum.)
Ernest Rutherford's ashes were interred in Westminister Abbey.  Westminster Abbey, London, England
* see following Rodgers link to scientific/historical sites for further information.
(1) Taken from The Scientific Traveler, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1992).
(2) Taken from A Travel Guide to Scientific Sites of the British Isles, Charles Tanford and Jacqueline Reynolds, John Wiley & Sons, NY (1995).
(3) Taken from Guide of Eurpoean Museums with collections on History of Chemistry, compiled by Jan W. van Spronsen, Federation of European Societies, Antwerp (1996)

Link to Dr. Rodgers' Scientific/Historical Site on the Cavendish Laboratory.
Link to Dr. Rodgers' Scientific/Historical Site on Rutherford at Manchester University
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