Thursday, February 24, 2011

100 years of atomic nucleus: Nuclear scientists remember Ernest Rutherford

By Syed Akbar
Visakhapatnam, Feb 23: Nuclear scientists from around the world including those from the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre on Wednesday celebrated 100 years of the birth of the atomic nucleus. The celebrations in this port city gains significance as Andhra University is the only institution of higher learning in India to offer advanced course in nuclear physics.
Andhra University started the department of nuclear physics way back in October 1954 and still continues to be the only one of its kind in the country offering advanced level teaching and research in nuclear physics.
About 160 eminent nuclear scientists attending the ongoing Nucar-2011 symposium here paid rich tributes to Ernest Rutherford, who accidentally discovered the atomic nucleus in February 1911. The discovery changed the course of thinking of man and led to the birth of new branches of science, nuclear physics and chemistry.
“The route to discovery was classic,” said Dr R Marshall, of the University of Manchester, England. The objective of the research 100 years ago was not to discover the nucleus, he said adding that it had more humble aims.
“But as soon as the results of the humble research showed unexpected behaviour, the presence of a new phenomenon was recognized at once and further relentless research was carried out until it was understood,” Dr Marshall said.
Rutherford’s team carried out the experiment in 1909 but he made the findings public in February 1911 when he published his research paper in Philosophical magazine.
Dr BS Tomar, senior scientist from Barc, said Rutherford interpreted the results of the now-famous gold foil experiment carried out by his team comprising Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden in 1909.
He said, “Rutherford expected only slight deflection of alpha particles fired at a thin gold foil, but what the team discovered shocked and amazed him. Remarking on the alpha particles that bounced back, Rutherford said, “It was l
ike firing a 15 inch shell at a sheet of tissue paper and having it bounce back.”

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