Nobel Prize in Chemistry Recipient. Sir Ernest Rutherford received notoriety as the recipient of the 1908 Nobel Prize, according to the Nobel Prize Committee, "for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances." Considered by many to be the “father of nuclear physics,” he was born and spent his childhood on a farm in New Zealand, where he was one of twelve children. Here he learned the value of hard work and received his early education in Government schools. He was graduated M.A. in 1893 from Canterbury College of the University of New Zealand with a double major first in Mathematics and Physical Science, and the next year, a Bachelors in Science Degree. He was awarded an 1851 Exhibition Science Scholarship in 1894, which enabled him to attend Trinity College, in Cambridge, England. This was a turning point in his career, as he met Dr. J.J. Thomson, the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics recipient for the discovery of the electron, and who would encourage him to study the recently-discovered x-rays. In 1898 he accepted the MacDonald Chair of Physics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Returning to England in 1907, he accepted an academic position at the University of Manchester and then Cambridge University studying with Thomson. His theories were considered by many scientists of the day to be mere alchemy, but by 1904 the work and energy of this researcher started to gain recognition. Together with Dr. Hans Geiger, he established a center for the study of radiation at the University of Manchester. His experiments were to change the face of physics and would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 for his model of the atom, for which he discovered the atomic nucleus. During World War I, for a time he helped the British Admiralty with problems of submarine detection. When he returned to the laboratory, it was not long before he became the first human to create a "nuclear reaction." The particle that he dislodged had a positive charge, determining that it came from the nucleus so he named this new particle a proton. Besides proton, he added many new terms to the scientific vocabulary such as Alpha, Beta and Gamma rays, half-life and daughter atoms. Several other Nobel Prize recipients, including Max Rlanck and Niels Bohr, did research with him. He was married to Mary Newton and their only child, Eileen, married the physicist R.H. Fowler. He was knighted in 1914, and in 1931 he was made the first Baron Rutherford of Nelson, which allowed him to join the House of Lords. His strong anti-Nazi views led him to serve as president of the Academic Assistance Council to help German refugees. He published several books including in 1904 “Radioactivity” and in 1906 “Radioactive Transformations,” which contained his Silliman Lectures at Yale University. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received a host of medals from various scientific societies, awarded a Doctorate in Science from the University of New Zealand, and honorary degrees from twenty universities in Europe and the United States. He died in Cambridge and his ashes were buried in the nave of Westminster Abbey near those of Sir Isaac Newton and next to those of Lord Kelvin.
Bio by: D C McJonathan-Swarm
Records on Ancestry
New Zealand, Who's Who in New Zealand and the Western Pacific, 1908, 1925, 1938
U.S., Newspapers.com Obituary Index, 1800s-current
New Zealand, Marriage Index, 1840–1937
U.S., Cemetery and Funeral Home Collection, 1847-Current
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