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Ernest Rutherford and Nuclear Physics contributions - Research Paper Example

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Born to simple and hardworking country folks in New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford was destined to become what some call, according to Dr. John Campbell, “the father of nuclear physics”. Though he showed no interest in science as a child beyond reading one science textbook, he forever changed the way that atoms and physics were thought of…
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Ernest Rutherford and Nuclear Physics contributions
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Download file to see previous pages His father was a wheelwright, his mother a schoolteacher (Campbell). He moved once or twice, though staying in New Zealand the entire time, and attending different schools when he moved (Campbell). Though Ernest as a boy liked tinkering with clocks, and loved to make models of the wheels that were used in the mills, he did not show any real passion for science during childhood (Mahanti, 2011). Most of his education came through the winning of scholarships, first to Nelson College in 1889, then on to Canterbury College at the University of New Zealand, where he first developed an interest in electrical science, running experiments that would determine whether or not iron was magnetic at a high magnetizing frequency (Campbell). After failing in three attempts to secure a teaching position after university, and briefly considering medicine, he took odd jobs tutoring students to help make ends meet while continuing to experiment in electrical science. In 1895 he won a scholarship to Cambridge University to work with instructor J.J. Thomson (Campbell). Thomson, who was quick to realize Rutherford’s exceptional ability as a researcher as he had already designed several original experiments involving high-frequency, alternating currents, invited him to become a member of the team to study of the electrical conduction of gases. The pair soon became not only researcher and student but also good friends, and Rutherford was able to take Thomson’s theories and improve on them, breaking the ground to make a lasting impression on nuclear physics today. Rutherford developed several ingenious techniques to study the mechanism Thomson was using, whereby normally insulating gases became electrical conductors. In studying this matter, Rutherford commented that when a high voltage is applied across them, a clear view was given of the mechanism of the transport of electricity through the gases by the means of charged ions (Rutherford 1904). He also worked jointly with Thomson on the behavior of the ions observed in gases that had been treated with X-rays (a recent discovery), as well as the mobility of ions in relation to the strength of the electric field. It did not hurt in any way that Thomson was the one to discover that the “atom”, then known as the smallest unit of matter, was not in fact the smallest, but made up of even smaller particles, giving yet another area of interest for Rutherford to experiment with (Mahanti, 2011). When the Macdonald Chair of Physics at McGill University in Montreal became vacant in 1898, Rutherford left for Canada to take up the post. He promptly made a name for himself by discovering the element of radon, a chemically inactive but extremely radioactive gas (Campbell). While at McGill, he also did the work that gained him the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry by demonstrating that radioactivity was the spontaneous disintegration of atoms. With the help of a young chemist, Frederick Soddy, he began to unravel the mysteries of radioactivity and contributed directly to nuclear physics as we know it today by proving that some heavier radioactive elements spontaneously decay into slightly lighter atoms (Mahanti, 2011). In this, Rutherford noticed that in a sample of radioactive material, it invariably took the same amount of time for half the sample to decay - its “ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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