Ernest Rutherford 1871–1937

Ernest Rutherford 1871–1937

Father of nuclear physics

What connects radiation, nuclear physics and the Large Hadron Collider? It's Ernest Rutherford.

Ernest Rutherford is called the father of nuclear physics and particle physics. I guess that makes nuclear and particle physics brothers!

Rutherford was a British chemist and physicist. He discovered the difference between alpha and beta radiation and that some isotopes have a radioactive half life. Alpha radiation has a low penetrating power and can be stopped by a few centimetres of air or by the skin. Beta radiation has more penetrating power and can be stopped by a few millimetres of aluminium. It's important not to get those two confused in the lab!

Rutherford's work on radiation was the basis for his Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substances".

Despite Rutherford's Nobel Prize, he is most famous for his experiments investigating the structure of the atom in 1911. Most people at the time thought that the atom was solid, but Rutherford proved them wrong. Have a look at this video explaining his famous experiment:

Rutherford and his colleagues are also credited with "splitting the atom" for the first time, which led to the development of nuclear power.

As well as his work on nuclear physics, his work on particle physics - using alpha particles to bombard the gold foil - revolutionised scinece. It eventually led to the creation of the Large Hadron Collider. In a century, the cutting edge of physics has moved from an apparatus that could fit on Rutherford's desk to the Large Hadron Collider, an apparatus spanning two countries.