Picture of Ernest Rutherford
The Bettmann Archive. From painting by James Gunn (1932).

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was a New Zealand-born physicist who lived between 1871-1937. He is considered the father of nuclear physics because of his theories on atomic structure.

Rutherford discovered that protons are concentrated at the center of an atom when he fired alpha particles at a thin metal foil and had them bounce back. He said it was as if "you had fired a 15-inch naval shell at a piece of tissue paper and the shell came right back and hit you".

Rutherford also named and characterized alpha and beta radiation, and showed how an element changes when it experiences radioactive decay.

Rutherford was more famous among his peers for his research in radio-waves. His experiments were the first to investigate "wireless" communication, years before the pioneers in the industry. The room used for his experiments is now a memorial, dedicated to the radio-wave research.

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