Ernest Rutherford

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pages: 279 words: 75,527

Collider by Paul Halpern

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, gravity well, horn antenna, index card, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Solar eclipse in 1919, statistical model, Stephen Hawking

Thomson, Recollections and Reflections (New York: Macmillan, 1937), pp. 138-139. 4 Ernest Rutherford to Mary Newton, August 1896, in Wilson, Rutherford, Simple Genius, pp. 122-123. 5 Ernest Rutherford to Mary Newton, February 21, 1896, in ibid., p. 68. 6 Thomson, Recollections and Reflections, p. 341. 7 Arthur S. Eve, in Lawrence Badash, “The Importance of Being Ernest Rutherford,” Science 173 (September 3, 1971): 871. 8 Chaim Weizmann, Trial and Error (New York: Harper & Bros., 1949), p. 118. 9 Ibid. 10 Ernest Rutherford, “The Development of the Theory of Atomic Structure,” in Joseph Needham and Walter Pagel, eds., Background to Modern Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), p. 68. 11 Ibid. 12 Ernest Rutherford to B. Boltwood, December 14, 1910, in L. Badash, Rutherford and Boltwood (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1969), p. 235. 13 Ernest Rutherford to Niels Bohr, March 20, 1913, in Niels Bohr, Collected Works, vol. 2 (Amsterdam: North Holland, 1972), p. 583. 14 Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond: Encounters and Conservations (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 61. 15 Niels Bohr, in Martin Gardner, The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener (New York: Quill, 1983), p. 108. 4.

Revealing the atom’s structure would require a special kind of sledgehammer and the steadiest of arms to wield it. 3 Striking Gold Rutherford ’s Scattering Experiments Now I know what the atom looks like! —ERNEST RUTHERFORD, 1911 In a remote farming region of the country the Maoris call Aotearoa, the Land of the Long White Cloud, a young settler was digging potatoes. With mighty aim, the boy broke up the soil and shoveled the crop that would support his family in troubling times. Though he had little chance of striking gold—unlike other parts of New Zealand, his region didn’t have much—he was nevertheless destined for a golden future. Ernest Rutherford, who would become the first to split open the atom, was born to a family of early New Zealand settlers. His grandfather, George Rutherford, a wheelwright from Dundee, Scotland, had come to the Nelson colony on the tip of the South Island to help assemble a sawmill.

His grandfather, George Rutherford, a wheelwright from Dundee, Scotland, had come to the Nelson colony on the tip of the South Island to help assemble a sawmill. Once the mill was established, the elder Rutherford moved his family to the village of Brightwater (now called Spring Grove) south of Nelson in the Wairoa River valley. There, George’s son James, a flax maker, married an English settler named Martha, who gave birth to Ernest on August 30, 1871. Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), the father of nuclear physics. Attending school in Nelson and university at Canterbury College in Christchurch, the largest and most English city on the South Island, Rutherford proved diligent and capable. A fellow student described him as a “boyish, frank, simple, and very likable youth, with no precocious genius, but once he saw his goal, he went straight to the central point.”1 Rutherford’s nimble hands could work wonders with any kind of mechanical device.


pages: 349 words: 27,507

E=mc2: A Biography of the World's Most Famous Equation by David Bodanis

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Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Berlin Wall, British Empire, dark matter, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Mercator projection, pre–internet, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley startup, Stephen Hawking, Thorstein Veblen, V2 rocket

This is where Einstein enters the book: his life as a patent clerk in 1905; what he’d been reading, and what he’d been thinking about, which led to all those symbols he wove together in the equation hurtling into place in his mind. If the equation and its operations had stayed solely in Einstein’s hands, our book would simply have continued with Einstein’s life after 1905. But pretty quickly after this great discovery his interests shifted to other topics; his personal story fades from the book, and in- preface stead we pick up with other physicists: more empirical ones now, such as the booming, rugby-playing Ernest Rutherford, and the quiet, ex-POW James Chadwick, who together helped reveal the detailed structures within the atom that could—in principle—be manipulated to allow the great power the equation spoke of to come out. In any other century those theoretical discoveries might have taken a long time to be turned into practical reality, but the details of how Einstein’s equation might be used became clear early in 1939, just as the twentieth century’s greatest war was beginning.

But what would they find, as they tried to peer into the smallest, inner structures within ordinary matter? Into the Atom E=mc 8 University students in 1900 were taught that ordinary matter—bricks and steel and uranium and everything else—was made of smaller particles, called atoms. But what atoms were made of no one knew. One common view was that they were something like tough and shiny ball bearings: mighty glowing entities that no one could see inside. It was only with the research of Ernest Rutherford, a great, booming bear of a man working at England’s Manchester University, in the period around 1910, that anyone got a clearer view. Rutherford was at Manchester, rather than at Oxford or Cambridge, not just because he was from rural New Zealand, and spoke with a common man’s accent. If a research assistant was self-effacing enough, that could be overlooked. The problem rather was that when Rutherford had been a student at Cambridge he had refused to show proper deference to his superiors.

The problem rather was that when Rutherford had been a student at Cambridge he had refused to show proper deference to his superiors. He’d even suggested creating a joint-venture business to earn money from one of his inventions—and that was a mortal sin. Yet the reason he became the scientist who got the first clear glimpse of the inside of atoms was, to a large extent, because his heightened awareness of dis- 93 2 the early years Ernest Rutherford photograph by c. e. wynn-williams. aip emilio segrè visual archives crimination made him the kindest leader of men. The bluff booming exterior was just window dressing. He was good in nurturing skilled assistants, and his key experiment was monitored by a young man who would end up perfecting a most useful mobile radiation detection unit, of Rutherford’s suggested design: the audibly clicking counter was to be Hans Geiger’s claim to fame.


pages: 492 words: 149,259

Big Bang by Simon Singh

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Andrew Wiles, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, carbon-based life, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, Copley Medal, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Defenestration of Prague, discovery of penicillin, Dmitri Mendeleev, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Erwin Freundlich, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, Hans Lippershey, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, horn antenna, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Index librorum prohibitorum, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Karl Jansky, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, Olbers’ paradox, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, Paul Erdős, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, scientific mainstream, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, unbiased observer, V2 rocket, Wilhelm Olbers, William of Occam

Despite its role in helping to understand how the elements reacted with one another, the periodic table did not offer any insight into the cause of radioactivity. One of the physicists drawn to this problem was a New Zealander, Ernest Rutherford. He was much loved by his colleagues and students, but he was also known as a gruff authoritarian who was prone to temper tantrums and displays of arrogance. For example, according to Rutherford, physics was the only important science. He believed that it provided a deep and meaningful understanding of the universe, whereas all the other sciences were preoccupied with mere measuring and cataloguing. He once stated: ‘All science is either physics or stamp collecting.’ This blinkered comment backfired when the Nobel Committee awarded him the 1908 chemistry prize. Figure 68 The portrait of Ernest Rutherford was taken when he was in his mid-thirties. He had a disdain for chemists, which was not uncommon among physicists.

If Thomson was right, then nothing should be detected, because his plum pudding mix of charges in the atom should not have so drastic an effect on an incoming alpha particle. However, Geiger and Marsden were astonished by what they saw. They did indeed detect alpha particles that had apparently recoiled off the gold atoms. Only 1 in every 8,000 alpha particles was bouncing back, but this was one more than Thomson’s model predicted. The results of the experiment seemed to contradict the plum pudding model. Figure 70 Ernest Rutherford asked his colleagues, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, to study the structure of the atom using alpha particles. Their experiment used a radium sample to provide a source of alpha particles. A slit in a lead shield round the sample directed a beam of alpha particles onto a gold foil, and an alpha detector could be moved to different positions around the gold foil to monitor the deflection of alpha particles.

Neither did the American authorities pick up on more obvious signs of Gamow’s true loyalty, such as the fact that the Soviets had sentenced him to death in absentia for fleeing the USSR. Figure 77 This group photo of the 1933 Solvay Conference in Brussels includes George Gamow (back row, centre), who engineered his escape from the Soviet Union by attending this conference. The conference was devoted to discussing the structure of atoms, so the photo includes many other notable figures. Ernest Rutherford and James Chadwick are seated in the front row, along with Marie Curie and her daughter Irene Joliot, who like her mother won a Nobel prize. Pierre Curie had been killed many years earlier when he was hit by a horse-drawn wagon in 1906. Marie then started a relationship with Paul Langevin, who is in the photograph next to her. Langevin was still married, which led to a public scandal. When Curie received notice of her second Nobel prize she was asked not to come to Stockholm to collect her prize in person, because of the embarrassment it might cause to the Nobel committee.


pages: 282 words: 89,436

Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics by Paul Halpern

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Arthur Eddington, Brownian motion, clockwork universe, cosmological constant, dark matter, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, lone genius, Murray Gell-Mann, New Journalism, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Solar eclipse in 1919, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics

After sessions at the building’s grand lecture hall, the more than seven thousand conference members had the option of attending a sumptuous reception hosted by the Imperial Court, a banquet held by the Vienna city government, and a party graciously arranged by the Viennese physicists themselves. Surely no one complained about being underfed. Among the topics of discussion, radiation and atomic physics were all the rage. One of the speakers was German physicist Hans Geiger, inventor of the Geiger counter (proposed in rudimentary form in 1908) and a former coworker of famed New Zealand–born physicist Ernest Rutherford. In 1909, under Rutherford’s supervision at the University of Manchester, Geiger and Ernest Marsden had conducted an artful experiment designed to probe the atom. Bombarding gold foil with alpha particles (a type of radiation identical to helium ions), they discovered that almost all the particles passed unhindered through the foil. However, a small fraction bounced back at sharp angles, like superballs ricocheting off a concrete wall.

Planck, whose voice would have carried much weight, refused to protest the Nazi moves openly, though privately he was aghast at the developments. Recruiters from universities in other countries soon realized that Germany’s loss could well be their gain. The first to recognize the opportunity was Oxford physicist Frederick Lindemann, who set out to snare some notables to beef up his department’s research. Thanks to J. J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, and others, Cambridge had leapt far ahead of Oxford in the sciences, and Lindemann hoped to make the situation at least somewhat more balanced. The haughty, posh, much-disliked Lindemann had set his eye on Einstein for a permanent position—but Einstein would commit only to brief yearly visits. The anti-Semitic law meant that others would likely follow Einstein’s path out of Germany. Perhaps, Lindemann thought, they could be persuaded to make Oxford their new home.

Punch, November 19, 1919, 422, cited in Alistair Sponsel, “Constructing a ‘Revolution in Science’: The Campaign to Promote a Favourable Reception for the 1919 Solar Eclipse Experiments,” British Journal for the History of Science 35, no. 4 (2002): 439. 2. Jagdish Mehra and Helmut Rechenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and the Rise of Wave Mechanics, Part 1: Schrödinger in Vienna and Zurich, 1887– 1925, The Historical Development of Quantum Theory, volume 5 (New York: Springer, 1987), 166. 3. George de Hevesy to Ernest Rutherford, October 14, 1913. Rutherford Papers, University of Cambridge, quoted in Ronald W. Clark, Einstein: The Life and Times (New York: World Publishing, 1971), 158. 242 Notes 4. Erwin Schrödinger, Space-Time Structure (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963), 1. 5. Albert Einstein, speech given in Kyoto, Japan, on December 14, 1922, quoted in Engelbert L. Schücking and Eugene J. Surowitz, “Einstein’s Apple,” unpublished manuscript, 2013. 6.


pages: 310 words: 89,838

Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Ian Sample

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Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, Donald Trump, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Isaac Newton, John Conway, John von Neumann, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Stephen Hawking, uranium enrichment, Yogi Berra

Thomson named them “electrons,” a term introduced by the Irishman George Johnstone Stoney twenty years earlier, and suggested they were ubiquitous ingredients of all the atoms scientists knew. Emboldened by his discovery, Thomson proposed the “plum pudding” model of the atom, so called because it pictured atoms as positively charged balls of matter (the pudding) dotted with tiny negative electrons (the plums). It turned out that Thomson’s atomic pudding was not what Nature ordered.7 The idea fell apart when the New Zealand-born chemist and physicist Ernest Rutherford, based on his work with radium, announced the startling news that atoms were mostly empty. Instead, he said in 1911, almost all of an atom’s mass was bundled up in a central, positive nucleus. Later that decade, Rutherford probed the nucleus more deeply and found evidence for a new kind of particle within, the positively charged proton. By the mid-1930s, physicists had what they believed to be the main building blocks of matter.

The work of Planck and Einstein showed that the atomic world was governed by laws that were completely different from the ones Newton had discovered for the macroscopic world that dominated our daily experience. Newton’s laws work fine for big things like cars and cannonballs, but strange and nonintuitive rules govern the realm of particles. The building blocks of matter simply cannot be understood without understanding the rules of the quantum world. The structure of the atom as perceived today was still being fleshed out when quantum physics came on the scene. Proposals from Ernest Rutherford and the Danish physicist Niels Bohr suggested that atoms had a hard nucleus encircled by electrons in concentric orbits. In 1913, Bohr realized that a quantum interpretation of electron orbits allowed him to explain the colors of light absorbed and given off by hydrogen gas. It was a very specific piece of work, but it bolstered physicists’ confidence that the quantum was key to understanding the structure of matter.

Particle accelerators began life in the late 1920s as ramshackle devices built from spare parts, but they have been transformed over the decades into the largest and most complex machines on the planet. The earliest models produced beams of high-speed particles that were used to break open atomic nuclei. Eventually the machines were powerful enough to create entirely new particles from the energy released in the collisions. The rise of the machines can be traced back to Ernest Rutherford and other physicists who did similar experiments in the 1900s. Rutherford knew that radioactive materials produced streams of high-speed particles that could be used to study the structure of the atom. One common material he and his contemporaries used was radium. It emits alpha particles, which are made up of two protons and two neutrons, at speeds in excess of 20,000 kilometers per second.


pages: 1,396 words: 245,647

The Strangest Man: The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom by Graham Farmelo

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Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Arthur Eddington, Berlin Wall, cuban missile crisis, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Fellow of the Royal Society, financial independence, gravity well, Henri Poincaré, invention of radio, invisible hand, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Simon Singh, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, strikebreaker, University of East Anglia

He would certainly have seen legions of wounded and maimed soldiers hobbling around the city, having returned from France for treatment.14 But the war was a boon for Dirac’s education.15 The exodus of the school’s older boys depleted the higher classes and enabled Dirac and other bright children to fill the gaps and therefore make quick progress. He excelled at science, including chemistry, which he studied in a silence that he broke on one occasion, a fellow student later remembered, when the teacher made an error, which Dirac gently corrected.16 In the foul-smelling laboratories, Dirac learned how to investigate systematically how chemicals behave and learned that all matter is made of atoms. The famous Cambridge scientist Sir Ernest Rutherford gave an idea of the smallness of atoms by pointing out that if everyone in the world spent twelve hours a day placing individual atoms into a thimble, a century would elapse before it was filled.17 Although no one knew what atoms were made of or how they were built, chemists treated them as if they were as palpable as stones. Dirac learned how to interpret the reactions he saw in the laboratory test tubes simply as rearrangements of the chemicals’ constituent atoms – his first glimpse of the idea that the way matter behaves can be understood by studying its most basic constituents.18 In his physics lessons, he saw how the material world could be studied by concentrating, for example, on heat, light and sound.19 But the mind of young Dirac was now venturing far beyond the school curriculum.

Unknown to most of his colleagues, Eddington had used his reputation to contrive the media hullabaloo that followed the announcement in November 1919 that the solar eclipse results supported the prediction of Einstein’s theory rather than Newton’s.16 Dirac attended his lectures and, like most people who first encountered him through his dazzling prose, was disappointed to find that he was an incoherent public speaker who had the habit of abandoning a sentence, as if losing interest, before moving on to the next one.17 But Dirac admired Eddington’s mathematical approach to science, which would become one of the most powerful influences on him. There was no love lost between Eddington and the other great figure of Cambridge science, the New Zealand-born Ernest Rutherford. The two men had sharply contrasting personalities and diametrically opposed approaches to physics. Whereas Eddington was introspective, mild-mannered and fond of mathematical abstraction, Rutherford was outgoing, down to earth, given to volcanic temper tantrums and dismissive of grandiose theorising. ‘Don’t let me catch anyone talking about the universe in my department,’ he growled.18 Unlike Eddington, Rutherford did not look in the least like an intellectual. 19 By the time Dirac first felt his surprisingly limp handshake, Rutherford was a burly fifty-two-year-old, with a walrus moustache, staring blue eyes and given to filling his pipe with a tobacco so dry that it went off like a volcano when he lit it.

Blackett was not there. Rutherford had no time for petty jealousy but was not above making a thinly disguised attack on his recently retired colleague Sir James Jeans, whose The Mysterious Universe had been a best-seller since it first appeared in the bookstores the month before. Rutherford was as down to earth and, at the same time, as snobbish as anyone in science. As the recorder of the dinner wrote: Sir Ernest Rutherford ‘deplored the writing of popular books by men who had been serious scientists, to satisfy the craving for the mysterious exhibited by the public’.49 This was a common opinion in Cambridge. A few months later, his idoliser C. P. Snow – a scientist about to become a writer – sneered at science popularisers for doing a job that was just too easy: ‘there is no argument and no appeal, just worshipper and worshipped’.


pages: 208 words: 67,288

The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True by Richard Dawkins

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Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Buckminster Fuller, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, false memory syndrome, Fellow of the Royal Society, gravity well, if you see hoof prints, think horses—not zebras, Isaac Newton, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, the scientific method

That’s because an atom is too small to be seen, even with a powerful microscope. And yes, you can cut an atom into even smaller pieces – but what you then get is no longer the same element, for reasons we shall soon see. What is more, this is very difficult to do, and it releases an alarming quantity of energy. That is why, for some people, the phrase ‘splitting the atom’ has such an ominous ring to it. It was first done by the great New Zealand scientist Ernest Rutherford in 1919. Although we can’t see an atom, and although we can’t split it without turning it into something else, that doesn’t mean we can’t work out what it is like inside. As I explained in Chapter 1, when scientists can’t see something directly, they propose a ‘model’ of what it might be like, and then they test that model. A scientific model is a way of thinking about how things might be.

Either way, this process of proposing a model and then testing it – what we call the ‘scientific method’ – has a much better chance of getting at the way things really are than even the most imaginative and beautiful myth invented to explain what people didn’t – and often, at the time, couldn’t – understand. An early model of the atom was the so called ‘currant bun’ model proposed by the great English physicist J. J. Thomson at the end of the nineteenth century. I won’t describe it because it was replaced by the more successful Rutherford model, first proposed by the same Ernest Rutherford who split the atom, who came from New Zealand to England to work as Thomson’s pupil and who succeeded Thomson as Cambridge’s Professor of Physics. The Rutherford model, later refined in turn by Rutherford’s pupil, the celebrated Danish physicist Niels Bohr, treats the atom as a tiny, miniaturized solar system. There is a nucleus in the middle of the atom, which contains the bulk of its material.


pages: 208 words: 70,860

Paradox: The Nine Greatest Enigmas in Physics by Jim Al-Khalili

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, butterfly effect, clockwork universe, complexity theory, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Edward Lorenz: Chaos theory, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincaré, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Olbers’ paradox, Schrödinger's Cat, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, Wilhelm Olbers

It was also known, thanks to the work of Einstein, that light could be made to behave either like a stream of particles or like a spread-out wave, depending on the sort of experiment that was set up and what property of light was being studied. This was strange enough—but evidence was growing that matter particles, such as electrons, could also exhibit such contradictory behavior. In 1916 Niels Bohr had returned triumphantly to Copenhagen from Manchester, where he had helped Ernest Rutherford develop a theoretical model of how electrons orbit the nucleus inside atoms. Within a few years he had set up a new institute in Copenhagen, funded by money from the Carlsberg Brewery. Then, with the 1922 Nobel Prize in Physics under his belt, he set about gathering around him some of the greatest scientific geniuses of the age. The most famous of this “brat pack” was the German physicist Werner Heisenberg.

In both cases, we cannot specify where the electron is exactly, but Schrödinger preferred to think of the electron as “really” spread out—until we look, that is. His version of atomic theory became known as “wave mechanics” and his now famous equation described how these waves evolve and behave over time in a fully deterministic way. Figure 9.2 Three pictures of the hydrogen atom with its single electron orbiting the nucleus (a) According to Ernest Rutherford (1911). (b) According to Werner Heisenberg (1925). (c) According to Erwin Schrödinger (1926). Today, we have learned to live with these two ways of viewing the quantum world: Heisenberg’s abstract mathematical way and Schrödinger’s wavy way. Both are taught to students and both seem to work fine, with quantum physicists learning to swap easily between the two pictures depending on the problem to hand.


pages: 654 words: 204,260

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Brownian motion, California gold rush, Cepheid variable, clean water, Copley Medal, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, David Attenborough, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Kevin Kelly, Kuiper Belt, Louis Pasteur, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, out of africa, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Such was the confusion that by the close of the nineteenth century, depending on which text you consulted, you could learn that the number of years that stood between us and the dawn of complex life in the Cambrian period was 3 million, 18 million, 600 million, 794 million, or 2.4 billion—or some other number within that range. As late as 1910, one of the most respected estimates, by the American George Becker, put the Earth's age at perhaps as little as 55 million years. Just when matters seemed most intractably confused, along came another extraordinary figure with a novel approach. He was a bluff and brilliant New Zealand farm boy named Ernest Rutherford, and he produced pretty well irrefutable evidence that the Earth was at least many hundreds of millions of years old, probably rather more. Remarkably, his evidence was based on alchemy—natural, spontaneous, scientifically credible, and wholly non-occult, but alchemy nonetheless. Newton, it turned out, had not been so wrong after all. And exactly how that came to be is of course another story. 7 ELEMENTAL MATTERS CHEMISTRY AS AN earnest and respectable science is often said to date from 1661, when Robert Boyle of Oxford published The Sceptical Chymist—the first work to distinguish between chemists and alchemists—but it was a slow and often erratic transition.

In the process of their work, the Curies also found two new elements—polonium, which they named after her native country, and radium. In 1903 the Curies and Becquerel were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. (Marie Curie would win a second prize, in chemistry, in 1911, the only person to win in both chemistry and physics.) At McGill University in Montreal the young New Zealand–born Ernest Rutherford became interested in the new radioactive materials. With a colleague named Frederick Soddy he discovered that immense reserves of energy were bound up in these small amounts of matter, and that the radioactive decay of these reserves could account for most of the Earth's warmth. They also discovered that radioactive elements decayed into other elements—that one day you had an atom of uranium, say, and the next you had an atom of lead.

The existence of atoms was so doubtfully held in the German-speaking world in particular that it was said to have played a part in the suicide of the great theoretical physicist, and atomic enthusiast, Ludwig Boltzmann in 1906. It was Einstein who provided the first incontrovertible evidence of atoms' existence with his paper on Brownian motion in 1905, but this attracted little attention and in any case Einstein was soon to become consumed with his work on general relativity. So the first real hero of the atomic age, if not the first personage on the scene, was Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford was born in 1871 in the “back blocks” of New Zealand to parents who had emigrated from Scotland to raise a little flax and a lot of children (to paraphrase Steven Weinberg). Growing up in a remote part of a remote country, he was about as far from the mainstream of science as it was possible to be, but in 1895 he won a scholarship that took him to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, which was about to become the hottest place in the world to do physics.


pages: 684 words: 188,584

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era by Craig Nelson

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Albert Einstein, Brownian motion, cognitive dissonance, Columbine, corporate governance, cuban missile crisis, dark matter, Doomsday Clock, El Camino Real, Ernest Rutherford, failed state, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Louis Pasteur, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, music of the spheres, mutually assured destruction, nuclear winter, oil shale / tar sands, Project Plowshare, Ralph Nader, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Skype, Stuxnet, technoutopianism, too big to fail, uranium enrichment, V2 rocket, éminence grise

After three months of vacation in Auvergne, the Curies returned to work in November and made rapid progress, a barium concentrate producing results nine hundred times as strong as uranium’s. One of the school’s chemists could finally see their second element through the spectroscope, and around December 20 they named it: radium. After four years, forty tons of chemicals, and four hundred tons of water, on March 28, 1902, they produced one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride. In time, English chemist Frederick Soddy would work with New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford to discover the secret of uranic rays, the remarkable ability of radioactive elements to, through the spontaneous loss of subatomic particles, change into other elements, producing an emanation of alpha, beta, or gamma rays over the course of what they called a half-life. Subatomically bloated, these elements are forced to constantly shed neutrons or electrons until they achieve a stable, nonradioactive form and are at nucleic peace.

Radium, and with the public support of New York World editor Walter Lippmann, they won their case in 1928. By then, twenty-four of the eight hundred were already dead. Manya Skłodowska Curie became the first woman in French history to be awarded a doctorate, in June of 1903. Sister Bronya, now practicing medicine in Poland, returned to celebrate. She insisted Marie buy a new dress for the occasion, and just as she had for her wedding, she got one that would work equally well as lab wear. Ernest Rutherford, the discoverer of the classical model of the atom (with electrons orbiting nuclei much as the planets revolve around the sun), visited from Canada and was astonished by the Curies’ lab in the cadaver hut, as well as by the celebratory garden party at Paul Langevin’s that evening, illuminated by radium vials—“The luminosity was brilliant in the darkness and it was a splendid finale to an unforgettable day”—and the sight of Pierre’s deeply swollen, burnt hands.

In a letter dated August 11, 1933, Szilard said, “I’m spending much money at present for traveling about and earn of course nothing and cannot possibly go on with this for very long. At the moment, however, I can be so useful that I cannot afford to retire into private life.” On September 13, Leo was walking the streets of London as he always did, in an absentminded haze, a man neither here, nor there, pondering Wells, Hitler, and especially Ernest Rutherford’s pronouncement in the Times the day before that “anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms was talking moonshine.” Nothing bothered Szilard more than hearing a scientist claim something to be impossible if that impossibility hadn’t categorically been proven. On Southampton Row in Bloomsbury, “as I was waiting for the light to change and as the light changed to green and I crossed the street, it suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction.

Longitude by Dava Sobel

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Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Copley Medal, Dava Sobel, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, lone genius

The Royal Society, which had been founded in the previous century as a prestigious scientific discussion group, rallied behind Harrison all through these trying years. His friend George Graham and other admiring members of the society insisted that Harrison leave his workbench long enough to accept the Copley Gold Medal on November 30, 1749. (Later recipients of the Copley Medal include Benjamin Franklin, Henry Cavendish, Joseph Priestley, Captain James Cook, Ernest Rutherford, and Albert Einstein.) Harrison’s Royal Society supporters eventually followed the medal, which was the highest tribute they could confer, with an offer of Fellowship in the Society. This would have put the prestigious initials F.R.S. after his name. But Harrison declined. He asked that the membership be given to his son William instead. As Harrison must have known, Fellowship in the Royal Society is earned by scientific achievement; it cannot ordinarily be transferred, even to one’s next of kin, in the manner of a property deed.


pages: 661 words: 169,298

Coming of Age in the Milky Way by Timothy Ferris

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, Alfred Russel Wallace, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, Atahualpa, Cepheid variable, Chance favours the prepared mind, Commentariolus, cosmic abundance, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, cosmological principle, dark matter, delayed gratification, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, Gary Taubes, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, Henri Poincaré, invention of writing, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, Karl Jansky, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Murray Gell-Mann, music of the spheres, planetary scale, retrograde motion, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Searching for Interstellar Communications, Solar eclipse in 1919, Stephen Hawking, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, Thomas Malthus, Wilhelm Olbers

Time: 1900 Noteworthy Events: Max Planck proposes the quantum theory of radiation, the basis of quantum physics. Time: 1904 Noteworthy Events: Ernest Rutherford suggests that the amount of helium produced by the radioactive decay of minerals in rocks could be employed to measure the age of the earth. Time: 1905 Noteworthy Events: Albert Einstein publishes special theory of relativity, indicating that measurements of space and time are distorted at high velocity and implying that mass and energy are equivalent; in another paper he shows that light is composed of quanta. Noteworthy Events: Jacobus Kapteyn, studying the proper motions of twenty-four hundred stars, finds evidence of what he calls “star streaming”—that stars in our neighborhood move in a preferred direction—an early clue to the rotation of our galaxy. Time: 1911 Noteworthy Events: Ernest Rutherford determines that most of the mass of atoms is contained in their tiny nuclei.

He had detected radioactivity, the emission of subatomic particles by unstable atoms like those of uranium—which, Becquerel noted in announcing his results in 1896, was particularly radioactive. His work helped initiate a path of research that would lead, eventually, to Einstein’s realization that every atom is a bundle of energy. At McGill University in Montreal, the energetic experimentalist Ernest Rutherford, a great bear of a man whose roaring voice sent his assistants and their laboratory glassware trembling, found that radioactive materials can produce surprisingly large amounts of energy. A lump of radium, Rutherford established, generates enough heat to melt its weight in ice every hour, and can continue to do so for a thousand years or more. Other radioactive elements last even longer; some keep ticking away at an almost undiminished rate for billions of years.


pages: 185 words: 55,639

The Search for Superstrings, Symmetry, and the Theory of Everything by John Gribbin

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Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, complexity theory, dark matter, Dmitri Mendeleev, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Isaac Newton, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Stephen Hawking

While physicists were still coming to terms with the idea that bits could be chipped off from the ‘indivisible’ atoms, the discovery of radioactivity was both giving them a new tool with which to probe the structure of atoms themselves and (although it was not realized at first) demonstrating that particles much larger than electrons could break off from atoms. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the New Zealander Ernest Rutherford, working at McGill University in Montreal with Frederick Soddy, showed that radioactivity involves the transformation of atoms of one element into atoms of another element. In the process, the atoms emit one or both of two types of radiation, named (by Rutherford) alpha and beta rays. Beta rays, it turned out, were simply fast-moving electrons. The alpha ‘rays’ also turned out to be fast-moving particles, but much more massive—particles each with a mass about four times that of an atom of hydrogen (the lightest element), and carrying two units of positive charge.


pages: 186 words: 64,267

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, Arthur Eddington, bet made by Stephen Hawking and Kip Thorne, Brownian motion, cosmic microwave background, cosmological constant, dark matter, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, Magellanic Cloud, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Stephen Hawking

He used a setup rather like a modern TV picture tube: a red-hot metal filament gave off the electrons, and because these have a negative electric charge, an electric field could be used to accelerate them toward a phosphor-coated screen. When they hit the screen, flashes of light were generated. Soon it was realized that these electrons must be coming from within the atoms themselves, and in 1911 the New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford finally showed that the atoms of matter do have internal structure: they are made up of an extremely tiny, positively charged nucleus, around which a number of electrons orbit. He deduced this by analyzing the way in which alpha-particles, which are positively charged particles given off by radioactive atoms, are deflected when they collide with atoms. At first it was thought that the nucleus of the atom was made up of electrons and different numbers of a positively charged particle called the proton, from the Greek word meaning “first,” because it was believed to be the fundamental unit from which matter was made.


pages: 298 words: 81,200

Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation by Steven Johnson

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Ada Lovelace, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, carbon-based life, Cass Sunstein, cleantech, complexity theory, conceptual framework, cosmic microwave background, crowdsourcing, data acquisition, digital Maoism, discovery of DNA, Dmitri Mendeleev, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Douglas Engelbart, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, Ernest Rutherford, Geoffrey West, Santa Fe Institute, greed is good, Hans Lippershey, Henri Poincaré, hive mind, Howard Rheingold, hypertext link, invention of air conditioning, invention of movable type, invention of the printing press, invention of the telephone, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, James Hargreaves, James Watt: steam engine, Jane Jacobs, Jaron Lanier, John Snow's cholera map, Joseph Schumpeter, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Kevin Kelly, lone genius, Louis Daguerre, Louis Pasteur, Mason jar, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, online collectivism, packet switching, PageRank, patent troll, pattern recognition, price mechanism, profit motive, Ray Oldenburg, Richard Florida, Richard Thaler, Ronald Reagan, side project, Silicon Valley, silicon-based life, six sigma, Solar eclipse in 1919, spinning jenny, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Stewart Brand, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Great Good Place, The Wisdom of Crowds, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions, transaction costs, urban planning

COSMIC RAYS (1913) The discovery of cosmic rays—particles that bombard earth from beyond its atmosphere—was the culmination of the work of a number of scientists in the early twentieth century, although the German physicist Werner Kolhörster did receive a Nobel Prize for his work and research in the nascent field. However, Kolhörster’s experiments leaned heavily on earlier discoveries by Victor Hess and Theodor Wulf. ELECTRON’S ROLE IN CHEMICAL BONDING (1913) Danish physicist Niels Bohr proposed his model of the electron (loosely based on British chemist Ernest Rutherford’s model) in 1913, postulating that electrons travel in patterned orbits around the nucleus of an atom, and further theorized that the chemical makeup of an element is derived from the number of electrons in the atom’s orbit. Bohr’s discovery revealed the electron’s fundamental role in chemical bonding. CONTINENTAL DRIFT (1915) In 1915, German meteorologist and geologist Alfred Wegener published a book in which he argued that all the continents of the earth had once been part of one massive landmass called Pangea, which had slowly split apart over time.


pages: 293 words: 74,709

Bomb Scare by Joseph Cirincione

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Albert Einstein, cuban missile crisis, Dissolution of the Soviet Union, energy security, Ernest Rutherford, Mahatma Gandhi, Mikhail Gorbachev, Ronald Reagan, uranium enrichment, Yogi Berra

Serber got right to the point: “The object of the Project is to produce a practical military weapon in the form of a bomb in which the energy is released by a fast neutron chain reaction in one or more of the materials known to show nuclear fission.”10 The discovery of fission was new, but the idea of the atom goes back to the early Greek thinkers. In about 400 BCE, Democritus reasoned that if you continuously divided matter, you would eventually get down to the smallest, undividable particle, which he called an atom, meaning “uncuttable.” By the beginning of the twentieth century, scientists realized the atom had an internal structure. In 1908 Ernest Rutherford discovered that atoms had a central core, or nucleus, composed of positively-charged protons, surrounded by the negatively charged electrons detected by J. J. Thompson eleven years earlier. In 1932 James Chadwick discovered that there were particles equal in weight to the proton in the nucleus, but without an electrical charge. He dubbed them neutrons. This led to the atomic model that we are familiar with today, of an atom as a miniature planetary system, with a nucleus of hard, round balls of protons and neutrons with smaller electron balls orbiting around.

Toast by Stross, Charles

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anthropic principle, Buckminster Fuller, cosmological principle, dark matter, double helix, Ernest Rutherford, Extropian, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, glass ceiling, gravity well, Khyber Pass, Mars Rover, Mikhail Gorbachev, NP-complete, oil shale / tar sands, peak oil, performance metric, phenotype, Plutocrats, plutocrats, Ronald Reagan, Silicon Valley, slashdot, speech recognition, strong AI, traveling salesman, Turing test, urban renewal, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, Y2K

The Committee is currently investigating autoclaves and very high-pressure steam generators as a route to the extraction of a better brew. However, there appears to be a fundamental limit imposed by pressures greater than two thousand pounds per square inch; at this point the coffee grounds adhere to one another. The result can be a nasty steam explosion, as Frazer discovered to his cost. MacIntyre, for his part, is working with Sir Ernest Rutherford. He still maintains that Radium is the answer. And now it is my sad duty to record the effects the war has had upon our ranks. Marshall Joyce passed away three years ago, a victim of the U-boat attack on the liner Lusitania. His son, Marshall Jr., chose not to follow him into our ranks once he was appraised of the nature of our pursuit. It is with regret that I note the death of Lieutenant William Stephenson.


pages: 356 words: 95,647

Sun in a Bottle: The Strange History of Fusion and the Science of Wishful Thinking by Charles Seife

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Albert Einstein, anti-communist, Brownian motion, correlation does not imply causation, Dmitri Mendeleev, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Gary Taubes, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Mikhail Gorbachev, Project Plowshare, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, the scientific method, Yom Kippur War

Since an atom is, on balance, neither positively nor negatively charged, the positive and negative charges in the atom must be equal and opposite; the charges in the atom have to cancel each other out. This means that for every electron in an atom, there has to be something else in the atom that carries the equivalent positive charge. About a decade after the discovery of the electron, the physicist Ernest Rutherford found out where that equal and opposite charge sits. It resides in tiny, but extremely solid, nucleus at the very center of the atom. This nucleus is quite heavy, thousands of times heavier than an electron, so the nucleus of an atom had to be made of stuff very different from electrons. Rutherford soon figured out what that positively charged stuff was: he realized that the positive charge is cloistered inside a heavy particle known as a proton.

Racing With Death by Beau Riffenburgh

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British Empire, David Attenborough, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society

Meanwhile, it took two months before Mawson finally was able to begin a job with the Commission Internationale de Ravitaillement (CIR), the organisation coordinating Allied supplies, for which he oversaw the loading aboard ship in Liverpool of high explosives and poison gas destined for Britain’s allies in Russia. However, although it brought with it the rank of temporary captain, this was a dead-end position that any automaton could carry out, and it quickly became tedious. Its lack of intellectual stimulation was emphasised when compared to Mawson’s regular scholarly and social contacts with the likes of Nobel Prize winners Sir Ernest Rutherford and William H. Bragg; Sir J.J. Thomson, President of the Royal Society; Charles Parsons, the inventor of the steam turbine; and, of course, Kathleen Scott and her young son Peter. Despite being joined by Paquita in November 1916 – after she had left Patricia with relatives for what turned out to be the duration of the war – Mawson remained so frustrated by the lack of a challenge that he wrote to University Registrar Charles Hodge that he intended to return to Adelaide.


pages: 442 words: 110,704

The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

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Albert Einstein, card file, Cepheid variable, crowdsourcing, dark matter, Dava Sobel, Edmond Halley, Edward Charles Pickering, Ernest Rutherford, Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, Harvard Computers: women astronomers, index card, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, John Harrison: Longitude, luminiferous ether, Magellanic Cloud, pattern recognition, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Solar eclipse in 1919, V2 rocket

No one at the Harvard Observatory had yet attempted such an investigation. No one possessed the background to undertake it. But Miss Payne hailed from Newnham College and the famed Cavendish Laboratory of Cambridge University, a place peopled with pioneers in these nascent fields. The Cavendish was home to Sir J. J. Thomson, recipient of the 1906 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the electron. Thomson’s disciple Ernest Rutherford, whom Miss Payne described as “a towering blond giant with a booming voice,” was the discoverer and first explorer of the atomic nucleus, and also the 1908 Nobel laureate in chemistry. During Miss Payne’s student days at the Cavendish, she had learned the complex architecture of the “Bohr atom” directly from Niels Bohr, the 1922 Nobelist in physics. Although none of Bohr’s lectures, which he delivered in a heavy Danish accent, ever lodged in Miss Payne’s memory the way Eddington’s relativity talk had stuck, she took good notes and saved them for later reference.


pages: 287 words: 87,204

Erwin Schrodinger and the Quantum Revolution by John Gribbin

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Albert Einstein, Albert Michelson, All science is either physics or stamp collecting, Arthur Eddington, British Empire, Brownian motion, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, John von Neumann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, Solar eclipse in 1919, The Present Situation in Quantum Mechanics, the scientific method, trade route, upwardly mobile

Thomson announced, in a lecture at the Royal Institution in London, the discovery that the radiation from a wire that is carrying an electric current in a vacuum tube is made up of a stream of electrically charged particles—what we now call electrons. The experimental study of radioactivity was swiftly carried forward by the Curies, Marie (1867–1934) and Pierre (1859–1906), at the Sorbonne; but the person who first appreciated what radioactivity involved, and then used radioactivity to probe the structure of atoms, was Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937), a New Zealander who worked in Canada and England. Rutherford arrived in England in 1895 and worked for a time under Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. Under Thomson’s influence, he became interested in atomic physics, and soon discovered that there are two kinds of radioactivity, one producing positively charged particles which he dubbed alpha radiation, and the other producing negatively charged particles which he called beta radiation.


pages: 449 words: 123,459

The Infinity Puzzle by Frank Close

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Albert Einstein, Andrew Wiles, Arthur Eddington, dark matter, El Camino Real, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, Isaac Newton, Murray Gell-Mann, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Ronald Reagan, Simon Singh

This is the scale of energy where the breaking of electroweak symmetry is predicted to occur, so some theorists suspect that this coincidence is not an accident and that top quarks may somehow be linked to the hiding of electroweak symmetry. It is even possible that totally new fermions, bound to one another by hitherto unknown forces—as in a theory known as “technicolor”— might be the answer.1 The exciting feature is that, until the experiments are done, we do not know which if any of these will be revealed as the source of electroweak symmetry breaking. Whatever awaits us a century after Ernest Rutherford first discovered the atomic nucleus, which revealed atomic structure and led to the modern science of particle physics, the modern conceit is that the heat of the Big Bang congealed into matter and antimatter in perfect symmetry, the symmetry becoming hidden as the universe cooled, thereby providing the structures that Rutherford explored. After thousands of years of speculation and searches for the basic pieces of matter, the outcome of the revolution that pursuit of the Infinity Puzzle helped inspire is that physics has for the first time a testable theory about the origins of the material universe.


pages: 404 words: 131,034

Cosmos by Carl Sagan

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Arthur Eddington, clockwork universe, dematerialisation, double helix, Drosophila, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, germ theory of disease, invention of movable type, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Lao Tzu, Louis Pasteur, Magellanic Cloud, Mars Rover, Menlo Park, music of the spheres, pattern recognition, planetary scale, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, spice trade, Tunguska event

It would be clear from such a world, as it is beginning to be clear from ours, how our matter, our form and much of our character is determined by the deep connection between life and the Cosmos. *It had previously been thought that the protons were uniformly distributed throughout the electron cloud, rather than being concentrated in a nucleus of positive charge at the center. The nucleus was discovered by Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge when some of the bombarding particles were bounced back in the direction from which they had come. Rutherford commented: “It was quite the most incredible event that has ever happened to me in my life. It was almost as incredible as if you fired a 15-inch [cannon] shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.” *The spirit of this calculation is very old. The opening sentences of Archimedes’ The Sand Reckoner are: “There are some, King Gelon, who think that the number of the sand is infinite in multitude: and I mean by the sand not only that which exists about Syracuse and the rest of Sicily, but also that which is found in every region, whether inhabited or uninhabited.


pages: 607 words: 133,452

Against Intellectual Monopoly by Michele Boldrin, David K. Levine

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accounting loophole / creative accounting, agricultural Revolution, barriers to entry, cognitive bias, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Dean Kamen, Donald Trump, double entry bookkeeping, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, financial innovation, informal economy, interchangeable parts, invention of radio, invention of the printing press, invisible hand, James Watt: steam engine, Jean Tirole, John Harrison: Longitude, Joseph Schumpeter, linear programming, market bubble, market design, mutually assured destruction, Nash equilibrium, new economy, open economy, pirate software, placebo effect, price discrimination, profit maximization, rent-seeking, Richard Stallman, Silicon Valley, Skype, slashdot, software patent, the market place, total factor productivity, trade liberalization, transaction costs, Y2K

With this exception, the details of my apparatus, which so closely resembles his, have been worked out quite.39 Talk about understatement and gentlemanliness! The fact is that Marconi was using established science at the time: long-run detection of Hertz waves was a widely studied topic. Marconi’s box was frontier engineering, certainly, but there is no real scientific discovery in his black box. Similar experiments were carried out by Ernest Rutherford at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory as early as 1895–96. In describing Marconi’s equipment, which is extremely similar to that of Rutherford and Jackson, even in terms of the size of many parts, Hong concludes: “There was an element of ‘non-obviousness’ in Marconi’s solutions: his grounding40 of one pole of the transmitter and one pole of the receiver.” So, Marconi’s contribution to solving the puzzle was the grounding of antenna and transmitter.


pages: 481 words: 125,946

What to Think About Machines That Think: Today's Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence by John Brockman

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3D printing, agricultural Revolution, AI winter, Alan Turing: On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem, algorithmic trading, artificial general intelligence, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, bitcoin, blockchain, clean water, cognitive dissonance, Colonization of Mars, complexity theory, computer age, computer vision, constrained optimization, corporate personhood, cosmological principle, cryptocurrency, cuban missile crisis, Danny Hillis, dark matter, discrete time, Elon Musk, Emanuel Derman, endowment effect, epigenetics, Ernest Rutherford, experimental economics, Flash crash, friendly AI, Google Glasses, hive mind, income inequality, information trail, Internet of things, invention of writing, iterative process, Jaron Lanier, job automation, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge worker, loose coupling, microbiome, Moneyball by Michael Lewis explains big data, natural language processing, Network effects, Norbert Wiener, pattern recognition, Peter Singer: altruism, phenotype, planetary scale, Ray Kurzweil, recommendation engine, Republic of Letters, RFID, Richard Thaler, Rory Sutherland, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, self-driving car, sharing economy, Silicon Valley, Skype, smart contracts, speech recognition, statistical model, stem cell, Stephen Hawking, Steve Jobs, Steven Pinker, Stewart Brand, strong AI, Stuxnet, superintelligent machines, supervolcano, the scientific method, The Wisdom of Crowds, theory of mind, Thorstein Veblen, too big to fail, Turing machine, Turing test, Von Neumann architecture, Watson beat the top human players on Jeopardy!, Y2K

As Steve Omohundro, Nick Bostrom, and others have explained, the combination of value misalignment with increasingly capable decision-making systems can lead to problems—perhaps even species-ending problems, if the machines are more capable than humans. Some have argued that there’s no conceivable risk to humanity for centuries to come, perhaps forgetting that the interval of time between Ernest Rutherford’s confident assertion that atomic energy would never be feasibly extracted and Leó Szilárd’s invention of the neutron-induced nuclear chain reaction was less than twenty-four hours. For this reason, and the much more immediate reason that domestic robots and self-driving cars will need to share a good deal of the human value system, research on value alignment is well worth pursuing. One possibility is a form of inverse reinforcement learning (IRL)—that is, learning a reward function by observing the behavior of some other agent who’s assumed to be acting in accordance with such a function.


pages: 532 words: 133,143

To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg

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Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, Astronomia nova, Brownian motion, Commentariolus, cosmological constant, dark matter, Dava Sobel, double helix, Edmond Halley, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, fudge factor, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, music of the spheres, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, probability theory / Blaise Pascal / Pierre de Fermat, retrograde motion, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

Responding to the experiments of Thomson and Perrin, the chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who earlier had been skeptical about atoms, expressed his change of mind in 1908, in a statement that implicitly looked all the way back to Democritus and Leucippus: “I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years.”4 But what are atoms? A great step toward the answer was taken in 1911, when experiments in the Manchester laboratory of Ernest Rutherford showed that the mass of gold atoms is concentrated in a small heavy positively charged nucleus, around which revolve lighter negatively charged electrons. The electrons are responsible for the phenomena of ordinary chemistry, while changes in the nucleus release the large energies encountered in radioactivity. This raised a new question: what keeps the orbiting atomic electrons from losing energy through the emission of radiation, and spiraling down into the nucleus?


pages: 476 words: 120,892

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology by Johnjoe McFadden, Jim Al-Khalili

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Alfred Russel Wallace, bioinformatics, complexity theory, dematerialisation, double helix, Douglas Hofstadter, Drosophila, Ernest Rutherford, Gödel, Escher, Bach, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, Louis Pasteur, New Journalism, phenotype, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Schrödinger's Cat, theory of mind, traveling salesman, uranium enrichment, Zeno's paradox

It was this work, rather than his more famous theories of relativity, that would win Einstein the Nobel Prize in 1921. But there was also plenty of evidence that light behaves as a spread-out and continuous wave. So how can light be both lumpy and wavy? It didn’t seem to make sense at the time; at least, not within the framework of classical science. The next giant step was taken by the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who turned up in Manchester in 1912 to work with Ernest Rutherford. Rutherford had just proposed his famous planetary model of the atom, consisting of a tiny dense nucleus at the center, surrounded by even tinier orbiting electrons. But nobody understood how atoms remained stable. According to standard electromagnetic theory, the negatively charged electrons would constantly emit light energy as they orbited the positively charged nucleus. In doing so, they would lose energy and very quickly (within a thousand billionth of a second) spiral inward toward the nucleus, causing the atom to collapse.

Culture and Prosperity: The Truth About Markets - Why Some Nations Are Rich but Most Remain Poor by John Kay

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Albert Einstein, Asian financial crisis, Barry Marshall: ulcers, Berlin Wall, Big bang: deregulation of the City of London, California gold rush, complexity theory, computer age, constrained optimization, corporate governance, corporate social responsibility, correlation does not imply causation, Daniel Kahneman / Amos Tversky, David Ricardo: comparative advantage, Donald Trump, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, Edward Lloyd's coffeehouse, equity premium, Ernest Rutherford, European colonialism, experimental economics, Exxon Valdez, failed state, financial innovation, Francis Fukuyama: the end of history, George Akerlof, George Gilder, greed is good, haute couture, illegal immigration, income inequality, invention of the telephone, invention of the wheel, invisible hand, John Nash: game theory, John von Neumann, Kevin Kelly, knowledge economy, labour market flexibility, late capitalism, Long Term Capital Management, loss aversion, Mahatma Gandhi, market bubble, market clearing, market fundamentalism, means of production, Menlo Park, Mikhail Gorbachev, money: store of value / unit of account / medium of exchange, moral hazard, Naomi Klein, Nash equilibrium, new economy, oil shale / tar sands, oil shock, pets.com, popular electronics, price discrimination, price mechanism, prisoner's dilemma, profit maximization, purchasing power parity, QWERTY keyboard, Ralph Nader, RAND corporation, random walk, rent-seeking, risk tolerance, road to serfdom, Ronald Coase, Ronald Reagan, second-price auction, shareholder value, Silicon Valley, Simon Kuznets, South Sea Bubble, Steve Jobs, telemarketer, The Chicago School, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, The Market for Lemons, The Nature of the Firm, The Predators' Ball, The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith, Thorstein Veblen, total factor productivity, transaction costs, tulip mania, urban decay, Washington Consensus, women in the workforce, yield curve, yield management

They have many similarities. { 60} John Kay Both are low-cost agricultural producers. You can take an elevenhour direct flight from Auckland to Buenos Aires to see the two nations play international rugby. And they have many differences. The most famous Argentines are Eva Peron, movie-star wife of a populist dictator, and the skeptical writer Jorge Luis Borges. The most famous New Zealanders are Ernest Rutherford, who first split the atom (in England), and Edmund Hillary, who climbed Everest (in Nepal). The symbol of Argentina is the gaucho, of New Zealand the kiwi. And New Zealanders seem to have the same affection for Queen Elizabeth of New Zealand that Argentines had for Evita. But both are geographically peripheral countries. Geographic contiguity had a large influence on the development of rich states in Western Europe.


pages: 797 words: 227,399

Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century by P. W. Singer

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, Atahualpa, barriers to entry, Berlin Wall, Bill Joy: nanobots, blue-collar work, borderless world, clean water, Craig Reynolds: boids flock, cuban missile crisis, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, failed state, Fall of the Berlin Wall, Firefox, Francisco Pizarro, Frank Gehry, friendly fire, game design, George Gilder, Google Earth, Grace Hopper, I think there is a world market for maybe five computers, if you build it, they will come, illegal immigration, industrial robot, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of movable type, invention of the steam engine, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, job automation, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Law of Accelerating Returns, Mars Rover, Menlo Park, New Urbanism, pattern recognition, private military company, RAND corporation, Ray Kurzweil, RFID, robot derives from the Czech word robota Czech, meaning slave, Rodney Brooks, Ronald Reagan, Schrödinger's Cat, Silicon Valley, speech recognition, Stephen Hawking, strong AI, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, The Wisdom of Crowds, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Wall-E, Yogi Berra

He forecast a new type of weapon made of radioactive materials, which he called the “atomic bomb.” At the time, physicists thought radioactive elements like uranium only released energy via a slow decay over thousands of years. Wells described a way in which the energy might be bundled up to make an explosion powerful enough to destroy a city. Of course, at the time, most scoffed; the famed scientist Ernest Rutherford even called Wells’s idea “moonshine.” One reader who differed was Leó Szilárd, a Hungarian scientist. Szilárd later became a key part of the Manhattan Project and credited the book with giving him the idea for the nuclear “chain reaction.” Indeed, he even mailed a copy of Wells’s book to Hugo Hirst, one of the founders of General Electric, with a cover note that read, “The forecast of the writers may prove to be more accurate than the forecast of the scientists.”


pages: 636 words: 202,284

Piracy : The Intellectual Property Wars from Gutenberg to Gates by Adrian Johns

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banking crisis, Berlin Wall, British Empire, Buckminster Fuller, business intelligence, Corn Laws, demand response, distributed generation, Douglas Engelbart, Edmond Halley, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, full employment, Hacker Ethic, Howard Rheingold, informal economy, invention of the printing press, Isaac Newton, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, Marshall McLuhan, Mont Pelerin Society, new economy, New Journalism, Norbert Wiener, pirate software, Republic of Letters, Richard Stallman, road to serfdom, Ronald Coase, software patent, South Sea Bubble, Steven Levy, Stewart Brand, Ted Nelson, the scientific method, traveling salesman, Whole Earth Catalog

They had been motivated not by the desire to listen to broadcasting, which had not existed, but by curiosity about the properties of wireless, the ether, and the future of communication. The development of wireless had taken place largely at their hands. Moreover, the figure of the experimenter as a modest, plainspoken, virtuous worker of wonders commanded widespread respect – before Big Science, it seemed that not much separated the radio researcher from a figure like Ernest Rutherford, who had risen from colonial origins to the pinnacle of scientific achievement. Not least, that figure was seen as a peculiarly British individual, personifying hope for the empire’s future in the face of German discipline and American teamwork. Indeed, Kellaway had found himself facing parliamentary challenges on this score even before the BBC plan was finalized. Rumors about sealed sets, restrictions on equipment, and a monopoly on transmission had all aroused fears for the future of science, and therefore for that of Britain.


pages: 551 words: 174,280

The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations That Transform the World by David Deutsch

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Michelson, anthropic principle, artificial general intelligence, Bonfire of the Vanities, conceptual framework, cosmological principle, dark matter, David Attenborough, discovery of DNA, Douglas Hofstadter, Eratosthenes, Ernest Rutherford, first-past-the-post, Georg Cantor, Gödel, Escher, Bach, illegal immigration, invention of movable type, Isaac Newton, Islamic Golden Age, Jacquard loom, Jacquard loom, John Conway, John von Neumann, Joseph-Marie Jacquard, Loebner Prize, Louis Pasteur, pattern recognition, Richard Feynman, Richard Feynman, Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, Stephen Hawking, supervolcano, technological singularity, The Coming Technological Singularity, the scientific method, Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Turing test, Vernor Vinge, Whole Earth Review, William of Occam

Yet, even at those unimaginable distances, we are confident that we know what makes stars shine: you will be told that they are powered by the nuclear energy released by transmutation – the conversion of one chemical element into another (mainly hydrogen into helium). Some types of transmutation happen spontaneously on Earth, in the decay of radioactive elements. This was first demonstrated in 1901, by the physicists Frederick Soddy and Ernest Rutherford, but the concept of transmutation was ancient. Alchemists had dreamed for centuries of transmuting ‘base metals’, such as iron or lead, into gold. They never came close to understanding what it would take to achieve that, so they never did so. But scientists in the twentieth century did. And so do stars, when they explode as supernovae. Base metals can be transmuted into gold by stars, and by intelligent beings who understand the processes that power stars, but by nothing else in the universe.


pages: 1,079 words: 321,718

Surfaces and Essences by Douglas Hofstadter, Emmanuel Sander

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affirmative action, Albert Einstein, Arthur Eddington, Benoit Mandelbrot, Brownian motion, Chance favours the prepared mind, cognitive dissonance, computer age, computer vision, dematerialisation, Donald Trump, Douglas Hofstadter, Ernest Rutherford, experimental subject, Flynn Effect, Georg Cantor, Gerolamo Cardano, Golden Gate Park, haute couture, haute cuisine, Henri Poincaré, Isaac Newton, l'esprit de l'escalier, Louis Pasteur, Mahatma Gandhi, mandelbrot fractal, Menlo Park, Norbert Wiener, place-making, Silicon Valley, statistical model, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, theory of mind, upwardly mobile, urban sprawl

while pointing with one’s finger would be deserving of a Nobel Prize in physics, and yet such a banal act is remarkably close to the profound analogy that links the atom and the solar system. That discovery was made collectively, around the turn of the twentieth century, by brilliant scientists, both experimentalists and theoreticians, from many countries; among them were Hantaro Nagaoka, Jean Perrin, Arthur Haas, Ernest Rutherford, John Nicholson, and Niels Bohr. The images at the heart of this analogy were extremely elusive at that time, and it took remarkable intellectual daring, supported by a large number of empirical findings, to come up with such bold ideas. And yet only a few decades later, the educational system had fully integrated these once-revolutionary ideas, and it is in this sense that understanding the analogy between the solar system and the atom’s structure is not all that different from understanding analogies that we all make, day in and day out, totally off the cuff, when we say “here” or “there”.


pages: 1,197 words: 304,245

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton

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agricultural Revolution, Albert Einstein, British Empire, clockwork universe, Commentariolus, conceptual framework, Dava Sobel, double entry bookkeeping, double helix, en.wikipedia.org, Ernest Rutherford, Fellow of the Royal Society, fudge factor, germ theory of disease, Google X / Alphabet X, Hans Lippershey, interchangeable parts, invention of gunpowder, invention of the steam engine, invention of the telescope, Isaac Newton, Jacques de Vaucanson, James Watt: steam engine, John Harrison: Longitude, knowledge economy, lone genius, Mercator projection, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, placebo effect, QWERTY keyboard, Republic of Letters, spice trade, spinning jenny, the scientific method, Thomas Kuhn: the structure of scientific revolutions

– Steven Weinberg, To Explain the World (2015)1 § 1 When Herbert Butterfield lectured on the Scientific Revolution at the University of Cambridge in 1948 it was the second year in which an historian at the university had given a series of lectures on the history of science: he had been preceded the year before by the Regius Professor of History, G. N. Clark, an expert on all things seventeenth century, and the medieval historian M. M. Postan had lectured immediately before Butterfield. It was in Cambridge that Isaac Newton (1643–1727) had written his Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica, or Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687), and here that Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) had split the atomic nucleus for the first time, in 1932. Here, the historians were acknowledging, they were under a particular obligation to study the history of science. They were also keen to insist that the history of science be done by historians, not by scientists.i 2 The historians and the scientists at Cambridge shared a common education: Latin was a compulsory entrance requirement.