Ernest Rutherford: biography and contributions of this New Zealand physicist

Ernest Rutherford is one of the most recognized researchers in the field of physics, as his discoveries in this field have been numerous.

He was especially interested in the experimental field, that is to say in the practical verification of his beliefs, in order to constitute later theories. His main contributions were the discovery of alpha, beta and gamma radioactive particles; the change in the nature of the radioactive element during its decay; and the approach of a new brass structure, consisting of a core.

In this biography of Ernest Rutherford, we will review the most relevant facts from the life of this researcher. and the most relevant contributions he has made to science.

    Brief biography of Ernest Rutherford

    Ernest Rutherford was born August 30, 1871 in Brightwater, New Zealand. He was the son of James Rutherford who was a farmer and Martha Thompson who was engaged in teaching. His parents always wanted to give a good education to their many children, they were twelve being Ernest the fourth.

    Youth and early years of training

    From an early age, they already emphasized their great abilities and skills in arithmetic, being a rather curious child. In this way, he was able to enter the Nelson Collage, where in addition to his academic skills, he was able to similarly develop his physical abilities as a rugby player.

    After studying for three years at Nelson College, he entered Canterbury College of Higher Education, where he continued to play rugby and was able to attend science clubs.

    During his stay at the University, he began to glimpse his high skills in the field of scientific experimentation, which, together with his consistently impeccable academic results, allowed him to continue his training and research at the ‘University of New Zealand for a period of five years.

    Given his good grades, after graduating he was fortunate enough to receive the only New Zealand scholarship to study mathematics, receiving an MA for his good grades. and participate in research in mathematics and physics.

    He later obtained a Bachelor of Science in 1894, so that a year later he was able to continue his studies in Great Britain, neither more nor less than at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, under the supervision of Joseph John Thompson, who was recognized in the field of science for being the one who discovered the electron.

    In the personal sphere, more precisely in the sentimental sphere, before traveling and settling in Britain, he became engaged to Mary Geordina Newton, a young girl he had met during his stay in Chriscruchs.

      Consolidation of his professional life in the scientific field

      During the years he was in Cambridge continued with the study of electromagnetic waves and how they could be received at great distances. His scientific career continued to progress, successfully presenting the results of his work to the Cambridge Physical Society and publishing them in the scientific journal Philosophical Transaction owned by the Royal Society.

      Also at the start of the stay began researching with his laboratory director, JJThompson, the effects of X-rays projected on a gas, thus discovering that these rays could ionize the air giving rise to a high number of charged particles, which can be as much positive as negative and recombining them giving rise to neutral atoms.

      Thus, he also devised a technique to measure the speed of ions and their rate of recombination, a process contrary to ionization, where electrons bind to positive ions.

      In view of the continuous research and discoveries he was making, his recognition in the scientific field was increasing. Therefore, in 1898 he was offered the opportunity to work as a professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada., where he remained until 1907. This new change allowed him to finally marry his fiancée Mary Newton in 1900 in New Zealand. In 1901, he welcomed his first and only daughter, Eileen.

        Research in the field of radioactivity

        During his stay in Montreal, he was interested in the study of radioactivity, since in 1896 the French physicist Henri Becquerel had discovered that uranium emitted radiation not observed until then. So, three years later, in 1899, Rutherford studied how this uranium radiation could ionize the air, observing how the radiation penetrated various metal sheets with which it surrounded the radioactive element.

        Likewise, he was able to observe and name three different types of radiation emitted by uranium: the one which penetrated the most, called beta, and the one which made it less, called alpha, and a third called gamma, which emits very energetic rays.

        His research would now focus on the chemical element thorium, discovering that it also emits radiation and decreases exponentially over time, allowing a new concept to be presented in 1900: that of the period of radioactive elements.

        Given these new discoveries, in 1902, with Frederick Soddy, Rutherford came to the conclusion that thorium expels radioactive atoms and that this emission is linked to a decay of the chemical element, thus formulating the theory of natural radioactivity, which explained the spontaneous transformation of the elements.

        In 1904, the Royal Society awarded him the Rumford Medal, rewarding and recognizing the important discoveries this scientist had made so far. That same year published the book entitled “Radioactivity” where among other approaches showed the uncertainty of the principle of immutability of matter, since the radioactive elements, by emitting radiation, were transformed into a new element with different chemical characteristics.

        Rutherford believed that at the heart of the Earth there were decays that would cause the planet’s temperature to be kept constant. He will thus collaborate with Otto Hahn, who discovered the nuclear fission of uranium and thorium.

        In 1907 he moved to Manchester, where he was admitted as a professor at the university in that city. This way began to collaborate with Hans Geiger, and together they were able to detect the alpha particles expelled by radioactive substances; From this line of research, they were able to more directly estimate the Avogadro number, which refers to the number of particles that make up a substance.

        It was a year later, in 1908, that he was able to confirm what he had already assumed before; that the alpha particles, already mentioned, when they detach from the charge, become atoms of helium. This discovery won him the Nobel Prize in chemistry the same year.

        One of his most important contributions to science was the formulation of a new atomic model in 1911, known as the Rutherford atomic model., where he notes the existence of a nucleus with atoms, which would be constituted by the positive charge and formed by almost all of the mass, surrounded by a crust or layer of electrons, of negative charge.

          Stage of World War I

          During the period of the First World War (1914-1918) the physicist focused on helping detect submarines using sound waves. After the war, already in 1919, he continued the study of alpha particles and atoms, in this case nitrogen, observed while nitrogen is transformed into oxygen by absorbing alpha particles, thus carrying out the first artificial transmutation. .

          Returning to Cambridge in 1919, he served as director of the Cavendish Laboratory, replacing JJ Thomson. It was during this period that his contributions and influences in the field of nuclear physics were most important.

          Among the renowned physicists who have studied in the laboratory under the Rutherford’s direction include James Chadwick, who discovered the existence of the neutron; Niels Bohr, who found the atomic model proposed by Rutherford to be stable, and Robert Oppenheimer, considered to be the creator of the atomic bomb.

            Last years of life

            During his stay at the Cavendish Laboratory, considered the most prosperous period of the physicist, the golden age, he also received multiple awards.

            For five years (1925-1930) he was president of the Royal Society, a society of which he had been a member since 1903 and received the Franklin Medal in 1924 and the Faraday Medal in 1936. Additionally, in 1931 he was appointed Baron Rutherford of Nelson, having already held the title of Sir since 1914. Although all of these acknowledgments and joys would be truncated by the death of their only daughter, Eileen, in 1930, at just 29 years old.

            Also during this period with James Chadwick and Charles Drummond Ellis published the book “Radiation of radioactive substances” in 1930, and seven years later wrote the book “La Nueva alquimia”.

            Ernest Rutherford died on October 19, 1937 after being unable to fully recover and suddenly got worse from an operation on him. His remains were buried in Westminster Abbey, giving him a place of honor with Isaac Newton and William Thomson.

            Bibliographical references

            • Moreno, V .; Ramírez, MªE .; de l’Oliva, C .; Moreno, E. (2007) Biography of Ernest Rutherford. Buscabiografies.
            • Fernandez, T .; Tamaro, E. (2004) Biography of Ernest Rutherford. Biography and life. The online biographical encyclopedia.

            Leave a Comment