Rutherford’s model of the atom

We’ve been looking at how Ernest Rutherford showed that Thomson’s plum pudding (think of Christmas pudding or fruit cake) model of the atom was incorrect by firing alpha particles at a piece of thin gold foil. Although most alpha particles passed straight through, some were scattered at large angles, or even came back.

This evidence allowed Rutherford to develop the idea of a nuclear atom, where the mass is concentrated in a small volume at the centre with a positive charge. The overall charge on the atom remains neutral due to electrons with a negative charge orbiting the nucleus. Most of Rutherford’s atomic model was empty space!

Here is a screenshot of the animation I used in class, the red spheres represent the alpha particles fired at the gold foil. Click on the picture to play the animatino sequence in full, watching what happens to the alpha particles after they reach the gold target.

Here’s a youtube video that explains Rutherford scattering and looks at how we can manipulate the nucleus of an atom to turn it from one element into another, a process called transmutation.

Professor Brian Cox goes back to Rutherford’s old laboratory in Manchester in this short video.

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