Ernest Rutherford

It's amazing how often Rutherford's greatest scientific discoveries get assigned to Cambridge. For example, the following is an extract from a booklet called "Big Bang Science" published by the PR Department of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council.

" This picture of the atom stems largely from pioneering work at Cambridge and Manchester Universities. At Cambridge in the 1890s, two physicists began unwittingly to probe the world within the atom. One, Joseph ('J.J.') Thomson, discovered the first known subatomic particle, the electron, while one of his students, Ernest Rutherford, started to explore the new phenomenon of radioactivity, in which atoms change from one kind to another. This was to lead Rutherford eventually to the discovery of the atomic nucleus, in work with Hans Geiger (of Geiger counter fame) and Ernest Marsden at Manchester University in 1909-10. Later, back at Cambridge, Rutherford found that atoms contain positively-charged particles, identical to the nucleus of hydrogen. He called the particles protons. And at Cambridge in 1932, James Chadwick showed that the nucleus must also contain neutrons. By this time Rutherford and his colleagues had established much of the modern picture of the atom."

Firstly, it would have been very difficult for young Ernie to have started exploring radioactivity at Cambridge when he went there as a research student in the 1890s. This preceeded Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity!


Secondly, the observation and deduction that nuclei contained protons was published in the paper' Collision of alpha particles with light atoms. IV. An anomalous effect in nitrogen.' Phil Mag Series VI, 37, 581-587 (1919) and is signed Sir E Rutherford, University of Manchester April 1919, which is not surprising since he was in Manchester at the time.


Rutherford's Nobel Prize winning work on radioactivity was done in Montreal; his work on the discovery of the nucleus, the nuclear force and the nuclear constituents was done in Manchester. Cambridge had nothing whatsover to do with any of this.


The next edition of the PPARC brochure will not contain these errors.


Cambridge themselves do nothing to suppress the myth, as any visitor to the displays on show at the Cavendish will see. There is no attempt to make sure people realise that most of the work referred to in the display was not done in Cambridge.





H G J Moseley

It's amazing how often Moseley's greatest scientific work gets assigned to Oxford. For example, in a recent article by Bleanis Bleany, Moseley is placed in Oxord during 1913. Since he was elsewhere in 1913, doing his greatest work, and didn't arrive in Oxford till December that year (and Oxford refused him a fellowship anyway), this simple error in a year effectively steals recognition for Moseley's work from other Institutes which not only paid him, but provided him with apparatus and gave him moral and scientific support.

The correct timetable for Moseley's all too brief scientific career is as follows:

1910, September. Arrived in Manchester at the age of 23 to join Rutherford's team.

1910-1912 Worked on problems assigned by Rutherford, which Moseley himself described as "dull".

1912, July. Moseley got interested in von Laue's recent discovery of X-ray diffraction and persuaded Charles Darwin to join him in some new work. Darwin can be heard talking about this period on a high quality recording made in 1961 (jubilee of Rutherford's epoch making paper). (See the Living Archive for details on how to hear Darwin.

1912 July-Nov was spent overcoming Rutherford's resistance to X-ray work (apparatus was expensive).

1913, Feb. Darwin and Moseley published a paper in Nature on the ionization caused by X-rays. In only 2 months, they almost caught up with Bragg who published just before them.

1913, Feb. Moseley relaxed after his achievement by watching the 2 1/2 hour French movie 'Les Miserables".

1913, July. Publication of a paper on the wavelengths of scattered peaks off platinum. By this time, Moseley was starting to think of moving on from Manchester.

1913. By October, Moseley had measured Kalpha and Kbeta lines for Cu, Ni, Co, Fe, Mn, Cr, V, Ti and Ca, producing the famous step ladder figure

1913 16th Nov. Moseley informs Bohr (also in Manchester) of his progress and Bohr urges him to publish.The work, together with the assertion of the significance of atomic number was published in Phil Mag.

1913 end of Nov. Moseley left Manchester, declining Rutherford's offer of a Fellowship to stay. He failed to get an Oxford fellowship but went to work in Townsend's lab in an unpaid capacity.

1913. Moseley plans to extend measurements to rare earths but his X-ray tube broke. He was awarded 1,000 Belgian Francs by the Solvay Intitute (nothing from Oxford) and spent some of it on a new spectrometer made by Charles Cook, Manchester's instrument maker.

1914. By March, Moseley had his spectrometer and finished his work, sending results to Rutherford. Poynting died that year and Moseley applied for the vacant chair in Birmingham. During the summer, along with many other scientists, Moseley went to the BA meeting in Australia and was away for a few months. When war broke he rushed back and was enlisted and commissioned into the Royal Engineers. He never did any more scientific research, dying at Sulva Bay during the disastrous Dardenelles campaign after a single bullet wound to the head.

In conclusion, Moseley worked for over three years in Manchester and his most important work and conclusions were published from there. He worked for about three months in Oxford in 1914 and by placing him in Oxford in 1913, Bleanis Bleaney tries to rewrite history. Fortunately for historians, Moseley's important papers were published in journals and will survive for ever. They are signed H G J Moseley, University of Manchester.

See History of Physics at Manchester Here

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