60 / Sir Ernest Rutherford

(1871–1937)

By splitting the atom, Ernest Rutherford blew scientific thinking into the 20th century. One of the greatest of all scientists, he was born near Nelson and studied at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury. In 1895 he became a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, England, and developed his interest in radioactivity. In 1898 he accepted a professorship at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, where his discoveries brought him to world attention. In 1908 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry. He was the first person to split the atom, and one of the first to determine the energy involved in radioactive decay, which would be the basis of nuclear fission. Knighted in 1914, he was created Baron Rutherford of Nelson in 1931, and was interred in Westminster Abbey following his death in Cambridge in 1937. His portrait is featured on New Zealand’s highest denomination ($100) banknote.


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