September 30, 2013
If there’s a New Zealand there’s got to be an old one. We keep a lot of old things around, even countries and cities. A little later in this post I’m going to talk about a New Zealander named Ernest Rutherford. He did an amazing experiment. His “microscope” was as phenomenal as the LHC….Large Hadron Collider. And to me my little light microscope is pretty amazing but worlds apart from subatomic particle microscopes.
Back to part of the post title, Zealand. This is where I started getting confused. But let me try to explain this. Zealand is the largest island in Denmark. It’s Danish. Not Dutch. If you are from the Netherlands, you’re referred to as Dutch (apparently Dutch people are really a native ethnic group from the Netherlands). Let’s not go any further because I’m sure I’ll probably say something that isn’t correct (right). But there are some very famous Dutch people…very famous….van Gogh is probably someone practically everyone knows about.
On to Ernest Rutherford who is neither Dutch nor Dane. He was born in New Zealand however (a Kiwi 🙂 ). And what his microscope did (in the UK) was find that the center of the atom (we call the nucleus) had a positive charge. If you remember anything about an atom, you probably remember that electrons carry a negative charge and the protons (in the nucleus) have a positive charge. It makes you wonder how over 100 years ago someone figured that out. To me it just doesn’t seem like someone without an iphone could possibly have figured that out. I know that sounded stupid but it’s just amazing what science has known for a long time. You know where we stand…on the shoulders…..
A tad bit more about his “microscope.” There is no way to see an atom with ordinary light. An atom is too small to see with visible wavelengths. He sent alpha particles (radium decayed positively charged helium particles that had no electrons) through a thin sheet of gold and measured what came out on the other side. He also measured what was reflected and didn’t go through. That was his microscope. He expected all the alpha particles would go through the other side but not all did. Some bounced back. Remember, positive repels positive. But there is a large empty space in an atom so most particles went through. And just remember, any ordinary light hitting a thin sheet of gold doesn’t go through the gold. It takes a way smaller particle to do that.
So, a patient I had some years ago had a tumor in his eye. I found it and took a picture of it. Showed it to the patient. He ended up seeing a doctor somewhere in California for proton beam radiation treatment. Yep, thanks to all the scientific discoveries, protons were eventually harnessed for our benefit. And thanks to the Zealands, new and old. May they keep adding on to our rich wealth of history and discovery.
Here’s a fun website that compares the various sizes of things in our universe…big to small. http://htwins.net/scale2/