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ERNEST RUTHERFORD

The modern theory of the atom stems from the work of Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) and Niels Bohr in the early 20th century. They demonstrated that the atom is not an indivisible particle of matter, as had previously been thought, but is in fact mainly composed of empty space, with negatively charged electrons orbiting in distinct 'shells' or 'energy levels' round a positively charged nucleus, which is itself composed of positively charged protons and uncharged neutrons. A large amount of nuclear energy is contained within the atomic nucleus, which is released when nuclei are split or when they fuse together. This is the basis of nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons such as the atom bomb.

In 1919, the New Zealand-born Rutherford was the first to split the atomic nucleus when he converted nitrogen into oxygen and hydrogen. He achieved the alchemists' dream of transmutation of the elements.



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