Ernest Rutherford

By Vanessa Romero

Growing up

Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871. He was born in New Zealand but his father, James, is Scottish and his mother, Martha, was English. Rutherford was to fourth child born and the second son of the two. He had a regular childhood. He grew up doing the regular things like family chores which back then were things such as milking cows and gathering firewood. On weekends the boys would go swimming in the creek.

Gaining Interest

Rutherford got involved with science at a young age. He was ten at the time when he received his first science book. It was them when he started experiments. He did one from being inspired by using the speed of sound to determine the firing of a cannon. Rutherford used that experiment to estimate the distance of lightning. Its also believed that the same book inspired him o create a small cannon out of a hat peg, a marble, and blasting powder. Rutherford then gets a scholarship to attend college.

Hardships During Science Career

Rutherford attended many colleges off scholarships. It took him two tries for him to get a scholarship to Nelson College. After three year there it ,again, took him two tries to get one of the ten scholarships for the University of New Zealand. With the studying that Rutherford did, he had many different options for a choice in career. Still, he failed three times to get a permanent teaching job. After failing at that he applied to get a scholarship that would be to go anywhere in the world to research things that matter to their industries. There was only one other candidate for it but when he didn't agree with the terms of it Rutherford got the scholarship.

Gold Foil Experiment

Rutherford performed this experiment to figure out the structure of an atom. He set a lead box with narrow opening with a radioactive source rich in positively charges alpha particles inside. The beam of particles was put to go to a thin gold foil sheet. When this occurred mostly all of the alpha particles went through the the sheet. After passing the sheet, the particles went in different directions. From this experiment it was concluded that the reason why most of the particles went through the sheet was because a lot of space in atoms is empty.

Atomic Theory

Rutherford made a new theory based on the results of his experiment the main points were:

  • Most of the part of an atom is empty.
  • Approximately all the mass of the atom is concentrated at the center of atom which is now called nucleus.
  • In the central region of atom, the positively charged particles are present.
  • The charge on the nucleus of an atom is positive and is equal to Z.e where Z is charge number, e is charge of proton.
  • The negatively charged particles i.e. electrons revolve around the central positive portion in different circular orbits.
  • Central region (nucleus) is very small in size if compared to the size of atom

Atomic Model

Along with his atomic theory he made a model that shows how the atom is mainly made up of space. It also shows the nucleus in the middle with the electrons surrounding it like planets with the sun.


Ernest Rutherford came to live to the age of 66. He dies on the 19th of October in 1937. He won several medals who were given to the University of Canterbury. He also got a Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1908. Rutherford is also the man on the 100 dollar banknote.
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Rutherford Gold Foil Experiment - Backstage Science


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