Ernest Rutherford was born in the rural Nelson area on 30 August 1871 to James Rutherford, a mechanic, and Martha Thompson, a school teacher.
In 1887, Ernest Rutherford won a scholarship on his second attempt, to attend Nelson College, where he boarded from 1887 to 1889. In 1889, he was Head Boy and won a scholarship, again on his second attempt, to attend a College of the University of New Zealand.
From 1890 to 1895, Ernest Rutherford attended Canterbury College and obtained three degrees a BA, MA and BSc. In 1895, Rutherford was awarded the 1851 biennial scholarship in support of his research work of 1893 and 1894.
Rutherford chose to work with Professor J.J. Thomson of the Cambridge Cavendish Laboratory. Rutherford had many successes while studying at this facility. The most notable of these, in 1889, was the discovery that two very separate emissions came out of radioactive atoms. He named these Alpha and Beta Rays.
Rutherford returned to New Zealand in 1900 and married Mary Newton. Their only child, Eileen, was born in 1901.
Rutherford’s next major accolade was in 1908, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his investigations into radioactivity.
In 1911, Rutherford deduced from experiments he had initiated with a young scientist Ernest Marsden, that the positive center of an atom contained almost all of the mass of an atom. The nuclear model of an atom had been born. This model, revised by Niels Bohr, is still used in school textbooks worldwide today.
Near the end of the First World War, Rutherford returned to atomic science and became the first person to split the atom, his third major discovery in atomic science. In 1919 following this discovery, Rutherford was made Director of the Cavendish Laboratory.
Ernest Rutherford died on 19 October 1937, and was honoured in death by being interred (laid to rest) near the tomb of the greatest scientist of the United Kingdom, Sir Isaac Newton, in Westminster Abbey. Rutherford is remembered as one of the greatest scientists of all time. Rutherford was knighted in 1914. He was appointed to the Order of Merit in 1925, and in 1931 he was created First Baron Rutherford of Nelson, New Zealand, and was known from this point on as Lord Rutherford. The chemical element Rutherfordium (element 104) was named after him in 1997. Rutherford is not only remembered as a solitary genius, but also as a leader of a team who was able to extract the best out of those he was working with. He is also remembered as a humble and persevering man, who never failed to give credit to his colleagues.
The House logo of Rutherford is an atom, in recognition of Rutherford being the first person to split the atom. It is also recognition of his hard work that led to this discovery. Members of Rutherford House are determined to exhibit the traits of hard work, humility, co-operation and perseverance, all traits that Rutherford himself exhibited.