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The Geiger–Marsden experiment(s) (also called the Rutherford gold foil experiment) were a landmark series of experiments by which scientists discovered that every atom contains a nucleus where its positive charge and most of its mass are concentrated. They deduced this by measuring how an alpha particle beam is scattered when it strikes a thin metal foil. The experiments were performed between 1908 and 1913 by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden under the direction of Ernest Rutherfordat the Physical Laboratories of the University of Manchester.

The popular theory of atomic structure at the time of Rutherford's experiment was the "plum pudding model". This model was devised by Lord Kelvin and further developed by J. J. Thomson. Thomson was the scientist who discovered the electron, and that it was a component of every atom. Thomson believed the atom was a sphere of positive charge throughout which the electrons were distributed, a bit like plums in a Christmas pudding. The existence of protons and neutrons was unknown at this time. They knew atoms were very tiny (Rutherford assumed they were in the order of 10−8 m in radius[1]). This model was based entirely on classical (Newtonian) physics; the current accepted model uses quantum mechanics.

Thomson's model was not universally accepted even before Rutherford's experiments. Thomson himself was never able to develop a complete and stable model of his concept. A Japanese scientist named Hantaro Nagaoka rejected Thomson's model on the grounds that opposing charges cannot penetrate each other.[2] He proposed instead that electrons orbit the positive charge like the rings around Saturn.[3]

Rutherford thus rejected Thomson's model of the atom, and instead proposed a model where the atom consisted of mostly empty space, with all its positive charge concentrated in its center in a very tiny volume, surrounded by a cloud of electrons.


 Rutherford's Experiment: Nuclear Atom by uploaded by HerrPingui

   Rutherford experiment animation by owigger

 Rutherford Gold Foil Experiment - Backstage Science

 Rutherford Scattering by xmphysics



Other Resources

  1. Understanding Rutherford's gold foil experiment by Concord Consortium. Rutherford shot alpha particles at atoms to see if the positive part of atoms would interact strongly with the positve alpha particles. Explore how concentrating positive charge affects the electirc field generated by that charge and how that field affects the path of the positive alpha particles.
  2. JJ Thomson wrong model
  3. Rutherford experiment result and new model
  4. by PhET



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