Lord Rutherford is remembered and our royal society launches a competition (but not necessarily for scientists)

The 150th birth anniversary of Ernest Rutherford, New Zealand’s most celebrated scientist and the country’s first Nobel laureate, was noted by RNZ, and by some newspapers and universities.

On RNZ’s Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, the programme host talked about Lord Rutherford with  Professor David Hutchison, the director of the Dodd Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.

Stuff featured an article by Nelson reporter Tim Newman under the headline Ernest Rutherford: From humble beginnings to New Zealand’s greatest scientist

This referenced an obituary in the New York Times on October 20, 1937, which described Lord Rutherford as one of the few men to reach “immortality and Olympian rank” during his own lifetime.

“In a generation that witnessed one of the greatest revolutions in the entire history of science he was universally acknowledged as the leading explorer of the vast infinitely complex universe within the atom, a universe that he was first to penetrate.”

The University of Auckland – on its website – reproduced an article by Professor Richard Easther, head of physics at the Faculty of Science, which he had written for Newsroom under the heading Happy birthday, Ernest Rutherford.

Curiously, the article carried a note that said:

This article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the views of the University of Auckland.

Professor Easther said:

New Zealanders talk about “tall poppy syndrome”, where we cut down successful individuals for daring to rise above the rest of the field. But we also stretch some poppies to their limits, as seen in our love of Olympic medal tables computed on a per capita basis. Consequently, growing up with a passion for science I was never certain whether Rutherford was fully famous or just a local lad made good. I shouldn’t have doubted. Nobel Prizes are awarded every year but insights like “the world is made of atoms” and that “atoms are built from smaller, simpler objects” may arrive only once a century, and Rutherford has a big share of both breakthroughs.

Professor Easther noted that Lord Rutherford rose to the pinnacle of British science as president of the Royal Society in the 1920s.

In this country, AgScience could find no mention of the 150th anniversary yesterday on the Royal Society of New Zealand website.

But the society had not overlooked the date.

On its Facebook page it drew attention to a design competition for students in Years 1-13.

Science students?

Not necessarily. The challenge is to design a $100 bill “showing us what you know, or what you have learnt, about Ernest Rutherford”.

The society had announced the competition earlier this month.

A $100 prize is up for grabs and the winning design will be shared across Royal Society Te Apārangi’s social media channels.

Without Rutherford’s discoveries, the world would look very different today! That fire alarm in your whare (house) that protects you from ahi (fire) was invented thanks to Rutherford. Have you learned about the periodic table of elements? Rutherford discovered Radon – one of those elements! 

So what were his other contributions? You show us!

The competition opened yesterday and closes on 30 September.

Alongside a video competition celebrating his impact on science and society today, the Facebook page  shares 150 facts on Lord Rutherford to celebrate his 150th.


Author: Bob Edlin

Editor of AgScience Magazine and Editor of the AgScience Blog