Ernest Rutherford

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  • Long ago in a far away place, a baby was born in Brightwater, New Zealand on August 30, 1871. The child's name was Ernest Rutherford!
  • When Rutherford was 24, he moved to Cambridge, England after graduating college to work in the lab of another very important scientist, J.J. Thomson!
  • After moving to the University of Manchester, Rutherford and two of his researchers carried out in 1909 one of the landmark experiments in science, the gold foil experiment.
  • Rutherford began the experiment because he was confused that fewer alpha particles than expected from a sample of radium were reaching a new detector in his laboratory. The only thing that the particles had to travel through was a small amount of air which should not have deflected any of the particles.
  • Rutherford and his scientists set up an experiment similar to the one picture above. This experiment was to determine how much the alpha particles would be deflected from their usual straight paths by passing through a very thin sheet of gold foil. Gold being a smooth substance they thought it would cause little deflection. With a sample of radium to stream alpha particles, they began the experiment.
  • The results were shocking! Most particles hit with little deflection on the other end of the foil, but some deflected drastically and some even bounced straight backwards! Incredible, but Rutherford had to figure out why this was...
  • The results of the experiment caused Rutherford to create a more accurate model of the atom in which most the mass was concentrated in a small, dense nucleus, and the rest of the atom composed of mostly empty space.
  • Rutherford had made, and went on to make many more monumental scientific discoveries following the gold foil experiment, such as the positive building block of the atom, the proton. He also predicted the existence of the neutron. He even won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908, but his famous gold foil experiment is his most notable work. Rutherford passed away on October 19th, 1937 in Cambridge, England.
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