Ernest Rutherford FRS

Rutherford talking to John Ratcliffe at the Cavendish LaboratoryRutherford's room at the Cavendish Laboratory; Rutherford speaking to John Ratcliffe at the Cavendish in 1935

Rutherford's potato masher (c. 1888)

Rutherford grew up in rural New Zealand. He made this potato masher for his grandmother whilst visiting her on his school holidays. It was donated to the Royal Society by Ernest Marsden FRS, who had performed the famous 'gold foil' experiment while Rutherford's student.

1908 Nobel prize certificate and medal (replica)

Certificate on loan from a private collection.
Medal replicas on loan from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch.

Rutherford won the 1908 Nobel prize in Chemistry 'for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances'. He joked that his research had dealt with transformations, but the quickest transformation he had seen was his own 'in one moment from a physicist into a chemist!'

Ernest Rutherford's disintegration chamber, c. 1919 (replica)

On loan from the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge.

Rutherford used this chamber to bombard nitrogen atoms with alpha particles, producing oxygen and hydrogen nuclei. This was the first demonstration of the disintegration of a nucleus by a charged particle. Rutherford published the result in 1919, and continued experiments at Cambridge with the help of James Chadwick, who would later discover the neutron.

Ernest Rutherford, The Newer Alchemy (1937)

This is a printed edition of Rutherford's Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture, delivered in Cambridge in 1936. It explains his research in non-specialist terms (the original owner of this copy has underlined many phrases). Rutherford and the public were equally struck by the connection with alchemy.

Series 12 X-ray tube, early 20th century

On loan from the Whipple Museum for the History of Science, Cambridge (Wh. 2050).

X-ray tubes evolved from Crookes tubes (with which X-rays were first discovered in 1895), and are used to produce a controllable source of X-rays. Rutherford would have used a similar tube in his early research into the properties of X-rays.

Image credits

Rutherford family home copyright William C Davies, Cawthron Institute, Nelson, New Zealand

All other images on this page supplied by and copyright the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge