EXHIBIT: New Zealand's Atomic Hero

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Science  04 Jun 2004:
Vol. 304, Issue 5676, pp. 1421
DOI: 10.1126/science.304.5676.1421c

Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) discovered the nucleus and was the first to split the atom. He stamped his mark on scientific vocabulary, coining terms such as “half-life,” “gamma ray,” and “neutron.” Physics luminaries like Niels Bohr, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and James Chadwick apprenticed in his lab. He won the 1908 Nobel Prize in chemistry and had an element, rutherfordium, named in his honor. Not bad for a New Zealand farm boy.

Find out more at Rutherford—Scientist Supreme, created by physicist John Campbell of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. As the site's biographical essay explains, Rutherford got his big break when he received a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge—but only because the top candidate had turned it down. He later pulled off a series of breakthrough experiments. For example, Rutherford noticed that firing bulky particles at a thin layer of gold occasionally produced a ricochet, and he deduced that most of the atom's mass must huddle in the core. Other features include book reviews and an essay describing how Rutherford's face ended up on New Zealand's $100 note.


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