A Young Ernest Rutherford








Ernest Rutherford was born at Spring Grove in rural Nelson, New Zealand, on August 30th, 1871. He was the fourth child and second son (of 12 children) to his parents James Rutherford and Martha Thompson. Ernest's father was an all purpose laborer in that he was a mechanic, wheelwright, engineer, flax-miller and a farmer. Ernest's mother was a school teacher before marriage and was able to give her children an education (in addition to the local schooling) that was as good as any that could be provided at the time. Both James and Martha stressed the importance of education to their children throughout their lives: partly because Martha had an education and knew what opportunities it offered, and partly because James lacked an education and wanted his children to surpass his limited potential. In any case, the Rutherford children were always assured that All knowledge is power.


As can be expected, Ernest demonstrated unique arithmetical abilities and an unusual desire for learning at a very early age. Considering the fact that Ernest grew up as a young country boy in a rural part of New Zealand, the teachers of the local schools greatly encouraged such curiosity. At the age of ten Ernest at long last acquired his first science text book from the Foxhill School. From this divine book he was able to acquire an idea that soon turned into his first recorded experiment.

Ernest's first experiment was the construction and testing of a home-made cannon. Many may be wondering: "How could a ten year old country boy build a cannon?" Well, the answer to this question is quite simple: the boy was Ernest Rutherford, end of story. In any case, this primitive canon was constructed from the brass tube of a hat-peg, used a marble for a ball, and used a dose of gunpowder as a source of ignition. Rutherford may have been an bright child, but it seems that he didn't inherit his father's engineering skills; because the canon exploded and failed to hit the target that was eloquently placed twenty meters away.


Luckily, Rutherford survived his first experiment and was able to survive his pre-mature experiments and scientific inquiries long enough for him to attend secondary school. At that time the Scholarship to Nelson College was the only scholarship available for children of Rutherford's rural and poor background. Needless to say, competition was over abundant. Upon his second attempt, Rutherford was finally able to win the scholarship in 1887 and begin his secondary education.

Rutherford spent his next three years at Nelson College and came under the tuition of the master William Littlejohn. In addition to being head boy and a member on the school rugby team, Rutherford managed to top his class in every subject during his final year at Nelson. At the end of that year Rutherford won one of ten nationwide Junior Scholarships to the University of New Zealand (currently the University of Canterbury) in 1889 (once more on his second attempt). Rutherford remained in New Zealand and continued to pursue various degrees until he left for Cambridge University at the age of twenty three. Soon afterwards Rutherford befriended J.J. Thomson (who acted not only as a helpful colleague but also as a mentor) and began his insightful career as both physicist and chemist. The rest of this story is written down in all types of science text books and will remain in such books until the end of time.







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