• Ernest Rutherford was born on August, 30, 1871 in Brightwater, New Zealand. Ernest Rutherford graduated M.A. in Mathematics and Physical Science and received the B.Sc. degree the following year at the University of New Zealand, Wellington. During 1894, he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, as a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory under J.J. Thomson. Later he took up academic assignments at McGill University, University of Manchester and in 1919 he succeeded Sir Joseph Thomson as Cavendish Professor of Physics at Cambridge University.
  • Rutherford's research invention was a detector for electromagnetic waves and contributions include photoelectric effect, discovery of the existence of alpha and beta rays in uranium radiation. In 1902, he formulated a theory that elements could disintegrate and be transformed into other elements. He postulated the concept of the "nucleus", greatest contribution to physics. According to him, practically the whole mass of the atom and at the same time all positive charge of the atom is concentrated in a minute space at the centre. In 1912, Niels Bohr joined him at Manchester and he adapted Rutherford's nuclear structure to Max Planck's quantum theory and so obtained a theory of atomic structure, Heisenberg's concept. Each element could then be assigned an atomic number and, more important, the properties of each element could be defined by this number. In 1919, during his last year at Manchester, he discovered that the nuclei of certain light elements, such as nitrogen, could be "disintegrated" by the impact of energetic alpha particles coming from some radioactive source and that during this process fast protons were emitted.
  • An inspiring leader of the Cavendish Laboratory, he steered numerous future Nobel Prize winners like Chadwick, Blackett, Cockcroft and Walton towards their great achievements. In addition, several other laureates like G.P. Thomson, Appleton, Powell, and Aston were also worked with him at the Cavendish for shorter or longer periods.
  • Chemistry Nobel Prize for the year1908 was awarded to Rutherford "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances".
  • Rutherford has published several books for the benefit of next generations.  Between 1925 and 1930 he served as President of the Royal Society. Encyclopaedia Britannica considers him to be the greatest experimentalist since Michael Faraday.  Rutherford's main recreations were golf and motoring. He died in Cambridge on October 19, 1937. His ashes were buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey, just west of Sir Isaac Newton's tomb and by that of Lord Kelvin.

Contributed by Dr M Chandrasekharam, CSIR-Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Hyderabad