Brilliant Brains

Ernest Rutherford – Father of Nuclear Physics

Last Updated on July 29, 2020 by Darshan Modi

Ernest Rutherford, also known as the father of nuclear physics, is a British physicist. He is considered as the greatest experimentalist after Michael Faraday by Encyclopedia Britannica. He was the president of royal society for 5 years. He made numerous discovery in physics and won several awards in his lifetime.

Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford Superhuman Superpower

According to J.J Thomson in 1906 “I have never had a student with more enthusiasm or ability for original research than Mr. Rutherford”. Ernest’s curiosity and limitless enthusiasm in science is one of his superpower and it has helped him to discover and name many things in physics and chemistry like the discovery of alpha and beta rays in 1899; discovery of a tonic nucleus, discovery of proton etc. He also postulated theories e.g. theory of neutrons. His superpower also lies in his willingness to keep going like he once said “I have to keep going, as there are always people on my track. I have to publish my present work as rapidly as possible in best sprinters in the road of investigation are Becquerel and the curies”.

Advertisement (Math Tutor DVD)

click me


Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871 in Brightwater, New Zealand’s South Island. He is the fourth child of his parents. James Rutherford, his father, was a farmer while his mother, Martha Thompson, was an English school teacher.

Early Life of Ernest Rutherford

At age 10, he read his first science book and performed his first experiment from what he learnt in the book. He had his primary education at Havelock School and attended Nelson College for his secondary education. He was on Scholarship at Nelson College. In 1889, he received another scholarship to study at Canterbury College, now University of Canterbury. After 4 years of studying, he graduated with first class honors in mathematics and physical science.

ALSO READ ABOUT:   Sally Ride - First American Woman in Space

About Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford, the fourth out of 12 children, was a science prodigy. After he obtained his first degree from Canterbury College on scholarship, he got another bachelor degree in Chemistry and Geology from the same college in 1895. At age 24, he won a scholarship that enables him to travel overseas for his postgraduate studies at University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He carried out his research in J.J. Thomson’s laboratory.

He invented a radio with world record breaking receiver capable of detecting radio waves at half a mile with the encouragement of Thomson. On presenting this work to the British Association, he was made to understand that Marconi had already outdone his radio work. Ernest did not mind in the least and continued his research works.

In 1898, Rutherford was nominated by Thomson for the position of Chair of Macdonald Professor of Physics available at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. At Canada, Rutherford obtained his professorship at age 27 and carried out research on the investigations into the disintegration of the elements and the chemistry of radioactive substance which led to his 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

This Nobel Prize made him the first Canadian and Oceanian Nobel Laureate. In 1900, he married Mary Georgina Newton (the only daughter of Arthur & Mary Renzy Newton) at St Paul’s Anglican Church, Papanui in Christchurch. In 1901, his wife gave birth to their only child, Eileen Mary. Eileen married a British physicist and astronomer Ralph Fowler at age 20 and died in 1930 during the birth of her fourth child.

After nine years in Canada, he returned to United Kingdom to receive his appointment as the Chair of Langworthy Professor of Physics at University of Manchester. In 1919, he accepted an appointment as the Chair of Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge after Joseph Thomson retirement. At Cambridge, he also became the Chairman of the Advisory Council, H.M. Government, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research; Director of the Royal Society Mond Laboratory and Professor of Natural Philosophy, Royal Institution, London.

ALSO READ ABOUT:   Derek Paravicini - The Human Jukebox

Rutherford was not a scientific stereotype, he was well-known for his limitless reserves of energy and enthusiasm. He was an inspiring man who had an unusually large number of his researchers wining Nobel prizes such as James Chadwick, Cecil Powell, and Neil Bohr among others. He was knighted in 1914 and he was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1925. He received a British Title Baron Rutherford of Nelson in 1931. In 1901, he got his doctor of science degree from University of New Zealand, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1903 and he became its president in 1925 to 1930. He received many awards and honours like Rumford Medal (1905), Nobel Prize Chemistry (1908), and Barnard Medal (1910) amongst others.

He had intestinal paralysis and gave up the ghost on 19th October, 1937 at Cambridge. His Cremation took place at Golders Green Crematonum, and was buried near Isaac Newton in Westminster Abbey.

Genetic or Learned

Rutherford’s ability can be considered genetic because he is a prodigy and understand things easily. His ability can also be referred to as learned because he worked under certain supervision like J.J. Thomson and read some books to develop his research.

Names Known By

  • The father of nuclear physics
  • The father of nuclear chemistry

Ernest Rutherford Youtube Videos

Featured In

  • Newspaper
  • Magazine
  • Documentary
  • YouTube videos

Books Published by Ernest Rutherford

  • Radioactive transformation by Ernest Rutherford (1906) –
  • The Newer Alchemy by Ernest Rutherford (1937) –
  • Radioactivity by Ernest Rutherford (1904) –
  • Radioactive Substance and their radiations (1913) –