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Particles and interactions

Particles and interactions

How Rutherford shaped nuclear physics

08 Sep 2011

This year is the 100th anniversary of Ernest Rutherford publishing his seminal paper describing the discovery of the atomic nucleus. The New-Zealand-born physicist reached this profound insight after his landmark alpha-particle scattering experiments carried out at the University of Manchester. To mark the centenary, the university hosted a special week-long conference in August, organized by the UK’s Institute of Physics, which publishes Physics World.

Physics World‘s multimedia team interviewed a number of invited speakers at the conference to find out how Rutherford’s discovery had inspired their own fields of research. Michael Pennington of the Jefferson Laboratory in Virginia, for instance, describes how physicists came to realize over the past 100 years that protons and neutrons are themselves divisible into smaller subatomic particles. In his own research, Pennington is concerned with the manner in which quarks and gluons interact inside hadrons. “The idea is to understand the nature of the colour force – how quarks are bound together by gluons to make protons and neutrons and all of nuclear matter,” he tells Physics World.

Another speaker, Hendrik Schatz of Michigan State University, is interested in how nuclear processes can explain astrophysical phenomena. Where he works at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, Schatz recreates the explosive hydrogen burning that takes place on the surface of neutron stars. By studying the data from these experiments, Schatz is trying to understand the types of nuclear matter that exist within neutron stars and the physical properties of these stars.

In addition to these vox pops you can also watch a short film about the Rutherford Centennial Conference.


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