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 shell at a piece of tissue paper and it came back and hit you.
– Ernest Rutherford
Being able to write out the key results of Rutherford, Marsden and Muller’s famous gold leaf scattering experiment is one of the requirements of the GCSE Physics syllabus. It comes up both in AQA and iGCSE Edexcel that I regularly tutor every year. This is usually accompanied by a comparison with the older “Plum Pudding” model of the atom. On this particular post I have embedded an invaluable video that I use for my online Physics tutoring sessions. A must watch for a deeper understanding of Rutherford’s experimental set up and his findings.
Writing out the correct answer on a test is one thing, and understanding the human story of ingenuity, perseverance and scientific intuition is another. We tend to learn things better when they are presented as stories and great breakthroughs often challenge the status quo of the time. What he found was mind boggling at the time, and even today it is hard to imagine how empty an atom actually is.
In this BBC documentary Professor Jim Al Khalili visits the actual laboratory in Manchester where Rutherford got his two assistants to explore the atom in detail. He shows the actual equipment used and the story of how one seemingly random decision by Rutherford ended up unraveling the mystery of the atom. The video is part of a BBC series called Atom. A must watch for all GCSE students with the key part being from 17:30 to 25:07. The video auto-starts at this point on this link. So press play and be taken on a journey of the most important chapter in the discovery of the inner workings of the atom.