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KS3 Science - Atomic History Timeline: Rutherford

How ideas about the atom developed - evolution of the atomic model

Ernest Rutherford

Ernest Rutherford was born on August 30, 1871, in Nelson, New Zealand. In 1889 he was awarded a University scholarship and he proceeded to the University of New Zealand, Wellington, where he entered Canterbury College*. He graduated M.A. in 1893 with a double first in Mathematics and Physical Science. 

He chose to work with Professor J. J. Thomson of the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory; he was the first non-Cambridge graduate to become one of its research students. Read more from HERE

More from the Nobel Prize webpages

Watch a video on Rutherford's model


News article from The Independent

Rutherford's Model

Main Points 

** Presented modern view of the atom

** Explains why electron spins around the nucleus

Rutherford had conducted experiments in which he shot relatively large, charged particles (alpha particles) at a thin gold foil. He found that most of the particles passed directly through the foil, but some came off at odd angles, as though they had been deflected. From these results, Rutherford concluded that each atom was mostly empty space, but also contained a dense region--a central mass, which his alpha particles could not pass through.


Description of the Model


The model described the atom as a tiny, dense, positively charged core called a nucleus, in which nearly all the mass is concentrated, around which the light, negative constituents, called electrons, circulate at some distance, much like planets revolving around thSun. The Rutherford atomic model has been alternatively called the nuclear atom, or the planetary model of the atom.


Shortcomings of Rutherford's model

  • Place electrons in definite energy levels
  • Neutrons not included in nucleus