Ernest Rutherford OM FRS

Ernest Rutherford OM FRS (1871 - 1937)

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Sir Ernest Rutherford OM FRS aka Baron Rutherford of Nelson
Born in Nelson, New Zealandmap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married in New Zealandmap
Died in Cambridge, England, UKmap
Profile last modified | Created 1 Jan 2014
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Categories: University of Canterbury | Nobel Laureates of the 20th Century | Order of Merit | Chemists | Westminster Abbey | Sidey Medal | Fellows of the Royal Society | New Zealand Physicists | Clan Rutherford | Nuclear Physicists.

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Ernest Rutherford was born on 30 Aug 1871 in Brightwater, near Nelson, New Zealand, the son of James Rutherford and his wife Martha Thompson. He was mistakenly registered as "Earnest" on his birth certificate.[1][2] [3]

He studied at Canterbury College, University of New Zealand. In 1895 Rutherford was awarded a fellowship for postgraduate study at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge in England. At Cambridge, Rutherford started to work with J. J. Thomson on the effects of X-rays on gases, work which led to the discovery of the electron.[2][3]

In 1898, Rutherford accepted a position at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.[3]

In 1900, he returned briefly to New Zealand. There he married Mary Georgina Newton to whom he had become engaged before leaving New Zealand.[4] In 1900 he also gained a DSc from the University of New Zealand.[2] In 1901, Ernest and Mary were living in Montreal, where they had their daughter, Eileen Mary (1901–1930).[2][5]

Continuing his studies on radioactivity, he discovered the concept of radioactive half-life, proved that radioactivity involved the transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation. This work was done at McGill University in Canada.[2] It is the basis for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he was awarded in 1908 "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances".[6]

Rutherford moved in 1907 to the Victoria University of Manchester (today University of Manchester) in the UK, where he and Thomas Royds proved that alpha radiation is helium nuclei. In 1911, he determined that atoms have their charge concentrated in a very small nucleus through his discovery and explanation of charged particle scattering in his gold foil experiments, and thereby pioneered the Rutherford model of the atom. He is also credited with first "splitting the atom" in 1917 in a nuclear reaction between nitrogen and alpha particles, in which he also discovered (and named) the proton.[2]

During World War I, he worked on a secret project to detect submarines by sonar. He was knighted in 1914. In 1919 he returned to the Cavendish Laboratory, succeeding J. J. Thomson as Director. Between 1925 and 1930 he served as President of the Royal Society, and later as president of the Academic Assistance Council which helped almost 1,000 university refugees from Germany.[2][3] He was admitted to the Order of Merit in 1925 and raised to the peerage as Baron Rutherford of Nelson in 1931.[7]

Ernest Rutherford died 19 October 1937 in Cambridge, England,[8][9] as a result of an infection from a strangulated hernia.[2] His ashes were buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey near those of Sir Isaac Newton and next to those of Lord Kelvin.[2]


"All science is either physics or stamp collecting." - Ernest (1st Baron) Rutherford (1871-1937)

"The only possible interpretation of any research whatever in the "social sciences" is: some do, some don't." - Ernest (1st Baron) Rutherford (1871-1937)


[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9]

  1. 1.0 1.1 New Zealand government, Births Marriages and Deaths online. Birth Search, Registration number 1871/310, Name Rutherford, Earnest, Mother's given name Martha, Father's given name James. (Note that his birth certificate spelled his name as Earnest.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 2.9 Wikipedia, Ernest Rutherford, accessed Nov 2015.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 The Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Rutherford, Ernest - Biography.
  4. 4.0 4.1 New Zealand government, Births Marriages and Deaths online. Marriage Search, Registration number 1900/1436, Mary Georgina Newton and Ernest Rutherford. )
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Canada Census, 1901," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 November 2015), Rutherford in household of Earest Rutherford, A, Montréal (city/cité), Quebec, Canada; citing p. 2, Library and Archives of Canada, Ottawa.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Nobel Prize - Ernest Rutherford -Facts.
  7. 7.0 7.1 The London Gazette: no. 33683. p. 533. 23 January 1931.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "England and Wales Death Registration Index 1837-2007," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 15 November 2015), Ernest Rutherford, 1937; from "England & Wales Deaths, 1837-2006," database, findmypast ( : 2012); citing Death, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, General Register Office, Southport, England.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Find-a-Grave Memorial, Ernest Rutherford. *

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Ernest is 35 degrees from Rosa Parks, 21 degrees from Anne Tichborne and 19 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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