Duration: 45 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 19 February 2004
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Ernest Rutherford. He was the father of nuclear science, a great charismatic figure who mapped the landscape of the sub-atomic world. He identified the atom’s constituent parts, discovered that elemental decay was the cause of radiation and became the first true alchemist in the history of science when he forced platinum to change into gold.
He was born at the edge of the Empire in 1871, the son of Scottish immigrant farmers and was working the fields when a telegram came from the great British physicist J J Thomson asking him to come to Cambridge. Rutherford immediately laid down his spade saying “that’s the last potato I ever dig”. It was. He went on to found a science, win a Nobel Prize and pioneer the ‘big science’ of the twentieth century.
With Simon Schaffer, Professor in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge; Jim Al–Khalili, Senior Lecturer in Physics at the University of Surrey; Patricia Fara, Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge