Ernest Rutherford: And the Explosion of Atoms

Ernest Rutherford: And the Explosion of Atoms

Ernest Rutherford: And the Explosion of Atoms

Ernest Rutherford: And the Explosion of Atoms

Synopsis

An engaging biography that captures the excitement of the early days of nuclear physics, Ernest Rutherford tells the story of the down-to-earth New Zealander who became one of the foremost pioneers of subatomic physics. Rutherford's achievements were numerous and included the history-changing discovery that the atom had a nucleus and that it contained the positively charged proton.

Excerpt

The earth’s crust and atmosphere have been radioactive since their creation. Human beings knew nothing about the radiations in which they bathed, however, until a hundred years ago, around 1900, when they first made conscious contact with rays from uranium, discovered the apparently inexhaustible radiator known as radium, and invented the concept of radioactivity.

Twenty-five hundred years ago a few Greek philosophers decided that the material world was composed of hard, indestructible particles they called atoms. Their theory, revived in Europe 2,000 years later, set the crucial question for chemistry and physics: Do atoms exist? Radioactivity helped to confirm both their existence and their non-existence by showing that although the atoms that figured in the theories of physics and chemistry did indeed exist, they were not indestructible.

Five hundred years ago western Europe was alive with alchemists, people who believed that base metals could be transmuted into gold. Much time and money were transmuted into nothing in the attempt to demonstrate the theory. the alchemists failed, not because their aims were frivolous, but because transmutation requires much more powerful methods than they had at their disposal. Their failure made “alchemist” a synonym for “imposter.” in radioactivity, however, nature itself regularly transmutes one sort of chemical atom into another.

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