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‘Touching The Ghost Of Matter’…Ernest Rutherford – 1917

‘Touching the ghost of matter’…Ernest Rutherford – 1917

This month, a century ago, Ernest Rutherford  accomplished proof from his experiment, of  splitting the nucleus.  It would become what he was most known for and commonly referred to as ‘splitting the atom’.

His Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded in 1908, and at the heart of this accomplishment lay the foundation for what was to come.

A culmination of scientific effort which began in 1911 ( see American Institute of Physics for the fuller story https://history.aip.org/exhibits/rutherford/sections/alpha-particles-atom.html, Rutherford, through the development of the experiement which led to the proof, and those who had assisted him, would  go on to achieve international recognition.

 Rutherford and his young student, Ernest Marsden* –  later to become a renowned physicist in his own right – conducted an experiment that allowed Rutherford to deduce nearly all of the mass of an atom was concentrated in a nucleus a thousand times smaller than the atom itself.

This gave birth to the nuclear model of the atom – and later formed the basis for revealing the stable orbit of the atom accomplished by Neils Bohr.  The pair were to become close friends.

In his third and most famous discovery, in 1917, Rutherford succeeded in becoming the first human to create a nuclear reaction.

“I have broken the machine and touched the ghost of matter.” he said.  It was the beginning of the search by many for an understanding of ‘what lies beneath’.

*Ernest Marsden emmigrated to New Zealand in 1915 where he lived out his life contributing to both science and public administration, until his death in 1970.

Acknowledgement of sources of the above: “Rutherford Scientist Supreme Chapter 14 ‘the Atom Unveiled'” the  American Society of Physicists, and teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m41/marsden-ernest

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