Facts about Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford died at 66 years old
Born: August 30, 1871
Birthplace: Brightwater, New Zealand
Best known as: The New Zealand physicist who split the atom


Ernest Rutherford Biography

Ernest Rutherford was the brilliant New Zealand physicist who explained natural radioactivity, determined the structure of the atom, and changed one element into another (nitrogen to oxygen) by splitting an atom’s nucleus.

A farm boy from New Zealand’s South Island, Ernest Rutherford spent most of his professional career overseas at McGill University in Montreal, Canada (1895-98), and at Manchester University (1898-1907) and Cambridge University (1919-37) in the United Kingdom. Rutherford was an energetic pioneer in nuclear physics: he discovered (and named) alpha and beta radiation, named the nucleus and proton and won the 1908 Nobel prize in chemistry for explaining radioactivity as the disintegration of atoms.

Rutherford’s description of an atomic structure with orbital electrons became the accepted model (with further help provided by his student and colleague, Niels Bohr), and in 1920 he predicted the existence of the neutron, which was later discovered by James Chadwick.

Ernest Rutherford was knighted in 1914, served as president of the Royal Society from 1925-30, and in 1931 was named Ernest, Lord Rutherford of Nelson (New Zealand).

Extra credit

Some sources list nearby Spring Grove as Ernest Rutherford’s birthplace… Ernest Rutherford’s likeness has graced New Zealand’s hundred dollar note.


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