The Rutherford experiment

The Rutherford experiment

The Rutherford Experiment proved the existence of positively charged atomic nuclei. The results led to the elaboration of a new atomic model.



Rutherford experiment, Ernest Rutherford, Rutherford, scattering experiment, atomic model, electron, Thomson, nucleus, quantum physics, quantum mechanics, quantum, particle physics, particle, change of direction, detector, radiation source, experiment, Alpha particle, physicist, physics

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  • Rutherford's scattering experiment

The Rutherford experiment


Particle scattering

  • nucleus


  • Joseph John Thomson
  • Nobel Prize: 1906
  • Ernest Rutherford
  • Nobel Prize: 1908


By the end of the 19th century, it had become clear that the theory of the atom’s indivisibility could not be maintained any longer. At the turn of the century, English physicist Joseph John Thomson assumed that the negatively charged electrons are embedded in a positively charged substance. Thomson referred to this as the ‘raisin pudding model,’ because he was reminded of raisins embedded in the surface of a pudding.

In Ernest Rutherford’s experiments, gold foil was bombarded with alpha particles, that is, by helium nuclei. The majority of alpha particles simply passed through the foil, while a few of them changed their direction while passing through, and some of them were reflected from the foil.

If the Thomson atomic model had been correct, all the alpha particles would have slowed down, but would have passed through the metal without any change of direction.

The outcome of his experiments is only possible if the vast majority of the weight of the gold atoms is condensed in a rather small space. Based on his results, Rutherford developed and published his atomic model in 1911, in which the electrons circulate around the positively charged nucleus. The diameter of the nucleus is about one ten-thousandth of the atom’s diameter.

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