Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Review: A Force of Nature—The Frontier Genius of Ernest Rutherford

Man, after reading this book I feel like I owe Ernest Rutherford a personal apology for not fully realizing how frickin' awesome he was! I have long proclaimed Niels Bohr to be my favorite scientist—mainly because his model of the hydrogen model and the energy levels is so brilliant it blows my mind—but Niels owed a lot of what he did to Rutherford. Heck, nearly every physicist and certainly every chemist today owes pretty much everything to that man. I eat up scientific history on quantum theory and the development of the atomic bomb (i.e., modern physics) like it's candy, it just fascinates me. (Case in point, the photograph I took of J. J. Thomson's Nobel Prize medal):

But when you read comprehensive histories like Diana Preston's excellent Before the Fallout, the individual genius and contributions of each scientist can get overlooked by the significance of their discoveries.

That's why this book focusing just on Rutherford is so great, because it really reinforces what a stunning scientific life he led. More than once the author compares him to Einstein, and I think it's an apt comparison. Rutherford was to experimental physics as to what Einstein was to theoretical physics. What's more, Rutherford's discoveries changed the nature of physics studies themselves (away from the experimental laboratory "tabletop" to the theoretical "blackboard"). This guy not only realized what was going on with radiation, came up with the concepts of half-lives, and named alpha and beta rays (for which he won a Nobel Prize), he also formulated the planetary model of the atom, discovered protons, and supervised the first splitting of the atom! Holy crap, that's a great resume!


Shannon said...

Wow, as I was reading this review I was sure Kim was the author. Lin, you are even more nerdy than I thought. No offense Kim.

Lindsey Lou said...

Don't hate on me just because you know you couldn't have hacked it as a biochemistry major.