This Week in History
"All Science is Either Physics or Stamp Collecting"
For the week of Monday December 8, 2008
On December 11, 1908, Ernest Rutherford gave his Nobel lecture in Stockholm, Sweden. It was on this day that the man who once said that “all science is either physics or stamp collecting,” received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances.”
Rutherford carved out a remarkable career as a brilliant scientist who had many outstanding discoveries. He became the first successful alchemist, when he converted nitrogen into oxygen; he was the first to explain radioactivity as “the spontaneous disintegration of atoms”; and he was the one to determine both the structure of the atom and the age of the earth. Rutherford’s research also led to the Geiger Counter, which detects individual nuclear particles, and to the invention of the modern smoke detector!
In 1914, he was knighted and became Sir Ernest Rutherford; in 1931, at the age of 61 he was raised to peerage and became Ernest, Lord Rutherford of Nelson. Throughout his life, Lord Rutherford accumulated many awards and he held an honorary degree from more than twenty universities. When he died on October 19, 1937, his ashes were interred at Westminster Abbey in London surrounded by Sir Isaac Newton, J.J. Thomson, and other brilliant British scientists.
Although Ernest Rutherford is not Canadian, the work he performed in Montréal alongside fellow scientist Frederick Soddy earned him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and for this he has been designated a National Historic Person.
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