Great Experiments (1) : Rutherford Scattering 偉大的實驗(一): 拉塞福散射steemCreated with Sketch.

in #cn6 years ago (edited)

Hello everybody! Today, I would like to present to you one of the most important experiments in the history of mankind, performed by possibly the best experimentalist ever lived: Rutherford Scattering. The experiment got its name because it was performed by Ernest Rutherford (and his students) in 1911. Ernest had already been awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908 when he performed his famous scattering experiment. Really, I feel he should have been awarded another one in Physics! Okay, so what was the experiment?


(Rutherford was Director of the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge, succeeding J.J. Thomson who discovered the electron in 1897.)

The idea of the experiment 實驗的概念

(from hyperphysics)

The set-up of the experiment is illustrated in the figure above. Essentially, we have a source of alpha particles (It isn't important to know what alpha particles are exactly, but to know that they are small and are positively charged. For those who are interested, an alpha particle is a Helium nucleus), which shoots alpha particles at a gold foil. Behind the gold foil is a small fluorescent screen that flashes when it is hit by an alpha particle. The small fluorescent screen can be moved around, so that we know where the alpha particles have gone after hitting the gold foil. The scattering angle that we can detect ranges from 0 to 180.

上圖表達了拉塞福散射的配置:概括而言,我們有一個釋出α粒子的源,把α粒子向一塊純金片射去。在純金片的後面,我們利用一個可移動的小屏幕去探測α粒子擊中純金片後往哪兒跑了。探測的角度(scattering angle)由零到一百八十都可以。(我們不用知道什麼是α粒子:我們只要知道它很小,還有是正電極的就可以了。)

The result of the experiment 實驗的結果

One might think: surely if alpha particles will get stopped by the gold foil just like how if we can't run through a wall? This might be what Rutherford was thinking as well, but Nature likes to surprise us: Most of the alpha particles went straight through. You might think: Wow, what's going on there? The interesting is yet to come: Some of the alpha particles (1 in 8000) were backscattered, meaning that they basically bounced back to where they came from.

我們可能會覺得:α粒子會被金片停來下吧,畢竟如果我們往着牆跑會撞的很慘。可能拉塞福自己也是這麼想的, 可是大自然總喜歡告訴我們:你們人類其實什麼都不懂。結果出來:絕大部分的α粒子完全無視了金片的存在。這還不算最有趣的:很少部分的(大概每八千次有一次)α粒子基本反彈回去了

Rutherford was so shocked by the results that he reacted with what is now a famous quote: "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!"

If you don't know what a 15-inch shell look like, here it is:



Rutherford's interpretation 拉塞福的結論

So how did Rutherford make sense of his bizarre results? His resolution was: (People were aware that things were made up of atoms in those days, so a gold foil would just be a sheet of gold atoms. What they didn't know was what the atom looked like)

  • Most of an atom is empty space, hence most of the alpha particles could go straight through the gold foil.
  • The atom has a very dense and positively charged region that is responsible for the backscattering: what we now know as the nucleus of an atom.

Rutherford's findings directly contributed to our understanding of atomic structure today. Today, we know that the nucleus of an atom is made of protons and neutrons. Protons are positive while neutrons are chargeless, so the nucleus overall is positively charged.


  • 原子的大部分都是空的,所以大部分的α粒子基本沒有發現金原子的存在。
  • 原子裏有一個特別小,密度非常高的,正電極的地方。就是這個地方把那些極少數的α粒子反彈回來的。今天我們知道這地方就是原子中的原子核。原子核由中子及質子組成。質子是正電極的,中子是沒電極的,所以原子核就是正電極的。


In the picture above, the red balls are protons, while the blue balls are neutrons. The grey balls are electrons (discovered by J.J. Thomson); they are negatively charged. In an atom, the number of electrons and protons are always the same so that overall the atom is electrically neutral.

在上圖,紅色的是質子,藍色的是中子,灰色的是電子 (沒錯,就是J.J.湯姆森發現的電子)。電子是負電極的。在原子裏,質子跟電子的數量是一樣的,所以原子是沒電極的。

If you have patiently read all of the above, congratulations! You now know how us humans know what the atom looks like! And of course, thank you very much for reading and I hope you have enjoyed this interesting (true) story. I am hoping this will develop into a series (Hence this is called Great Experiments (1)). I am also thinking of starting other series, perhaps some Quantum Mechanics or Relativity? Or Astronomy? Any suggestions are welcome!



proton 不是質子嗎?


he was a great scientist. I read about him in college

He certainly was! One of the best!

Yes, he was the one of the best!

We are mostly empty space, confronting thought, isn't it? ;)

Indeed, but it is true!

Great post. I might have some data from college when I did this experiment myself. Kep them coming.

There is also a good youtube video showing a reconstruction of the original experiment.


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This is a great grandfather I admire your business

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