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Ernest Rutherford
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Scientist
    (August 30, 1871-October 19, 1937)
    Born in Brightwater, New Zealand
    Father of nuclear physics
    Named alpha, beta and gamma radiation
    Demonstrated that some heavy elements spontaneously decay into lighter elements
    Developed the nuclear model of the atom, with a small positively-charged nucleus orbited by electrons
    Oversaw the first experiment to split the nucleus of an atom (1921)
    Won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1908)
    Named Baron Rutherford of Nelson (1931)
    Namesake for element 104, rutherfordium
    His name was misspelled ‘Earnest’ on his birth certificate.
    Although known as a physicist, his Nobel Prize was awarded for chemistry.
    He said, ‘All science is either physics or stamp collecting.’
    His discoveries led the way to the development of nuclear weapons.
    His title cost him his life when he required a hernia operation: protocol at the time dictated that the operation be performed by a titled surgeon and the delay in finding one proved fatal.
    Albert Einstein called him ‘a second Newton.’
    He excelled as both a theorist and as a hands-on experimenter.
    He joked that his inventiveness was a result of his New Zealand background: ‘We don’t have the money, so we have to think.’
    He outlived his only child, a daughter Eileen, who died in childbirth (1930).
    He was a mentor to several future Nobel Prize winners, including Niels Bohr (Physics, 1922), James Chadwick (Physics, 1935), Otto Hahn (Chemistry, 1944), Edward Appleton (Physics, 1947) and John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton (Physics, 1951).
    He is pictured on the New Zealand $100 bill.

Credit: C. Fishel


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