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Ernest Rutherford


Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford in academic garb.

Edgar Fahs Smith Memorial Collection, University of Pennsylvania Library Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, oil painting by J. Dunn, 1932.

J. Dunn, National Portrait Gallery, London


August 30, 1871, Spring Grove, New Zealand


October 19, 1937, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England

Claim to Fame:

Lord Rutherford pioneered the orbital theory of the atom with his famous gold foil experiment, through which he discovered Rutherford scattering off the nucleus. He is sometimes called the Father of Nuclear Physics.

Notable Awards:

Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1908)
Knighted (1914)
Ennobled (1931)
Element 104, rutherfordium, is named in his honor


Rutherford discovered and named alpha and beta decay and coined the terms alpha, beta, and gamma rays. He demonstrated radioactivity was the spontaneous disintegration of atoms and was the first person to artificially disintegrate an element. He identifed alpha particles as helium nuclei. Rutherford's gold foil experiment helped describe the nuclear structure of the atom. The deflection of the alpha particles implied the existence of a dense, positively charged central region containing most of the atomic mass. In 1920, he hypothesized the existence of the neutron.

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