The Luminous Ones: Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), Nobel laureate in chemistry (1908) and father of nuclear physics.

I think a strong claim can be made that the process of scientific discovery may be regarded as a form of art. This is best seen in the theoretical aspects of Physical Science. The mathematical theorist builds up on certain assumptions and according to well understood logical rules, step by step, a stately edifice, while his imaginative power brings out clearly the hidden relations between its parts. A well-constructed theory is in some respects undoubtedly an artistic production. A fine example is the famous Kinetic Theory of Maxwell. …The theory of relativity by Einstein, quite apart from any question of its validity, cannot but be regarded as a magnificent work of art.”

-Ernest Rutherford, responding to the toast, ‘Science!’ at the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1932.


New Zealand-born physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) is considered the greatest experimentalist since Michael Faraday (1791–1867). Rutherford was the central figure in the study of radioactivity, and with his concept of the nuclear atom he led the exploration of nuclear physics. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1908, was president of the Royal Society (1925–30) and the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1923). He was conferred the Order of Merit in 1925, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Rutherford of Nelson in 1931.

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