By J. L. Heilbron

A biography of the scientist thought of to be the daddy of nuclear physics for his improvement of the nuclear conception of the atom in 1911 and discovery of alpha and beta rays and protons.

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Rutherford and his school eventually remodeled and reinterpreted the periodic table; Soddy would win a Nobel prize for his part in the affair. In 1902, however, the relation between atomic weight and chemical properties expressed in the table of elements required that in losing the weight of an alpha particle, an atom would necessarily change species, that is, one element would become another. If an alpha particle weighed something more than a hydrogen atom, it should be the ion of some known or unknown light element.

The removal of an electron from an atom constitutes ionization, text continues on page 45 42 McGill and the Explosion of Atoms THE BENDING OF ALPHA PARTICLES he identifying mark of a charged particle, its e/m, indicates the ratio of the strength with which an electric or magnetic force acts on it to the inertia with which it resists changing its direction. To bend an alpha ray, with its relatively large mass, requires a much stronger force than a similar exercise on a beta ray. Rutherford succeeded in bending alpha rays when Marie Curie’s radium gave him a source intense enough to enable him to use an electric force of T Image Not Available The apparatus with which Rutherford demonstrated that alpha rays are streams of material particles.

He did not know. Together, Owens and Rutherford traced Rutherford’s odd power over the rays to air currents set up when he opened or closed the laboratory door. What was the air blowing about? Vapor of thorium? Unknown ions? Not knowing, Rutherford gave the agent the vague label “emanation,” indicating thereby a ghostly, mysterious, but substantial presence. He led this ghost down 35 Ernest Rutherford a long glass tube and learned that it was radioactive, although in a way grossly different from thorium, uranium, polonium, and radium.

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Ernest Rutherford and the explosion of atoms by J. L. Heilbron
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