His father, James Rutherford, was a farmer from Scotland and his mother, Martha Thompson, was a schoolteacher from England.
Ernest was the fourth of the 12 children his parents brought up in New Zealand, and he was blessed with both high intelligence and a talent for sports, particularly rugby football.
Rutherford was awarded the 1908 Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances.” Rutherford realized that Earth’s helium supply is largely produced by the decay of radioactive elements.He discovered two different types of radiation, which he named alpha and beta.By allowing radiation from uranium to pass through an increasing number of layers of metal foil, he discovered that: Rutherford coined the terms alpha, beta, and gamma for the three most common types of nuclear radiation. (Gamma radiation was discovered by Paul Villard in Paris, France in 1900.) Rutherford began his investigation of alpha and beta radiation in the same year that Pierre and Marie Curie discovered the new radioactive elements polonium and radium.In 1907, after nine years at Mc Gill, Rutherford sailed back to the UK, where he had been appointed to the University of Manchester’s Chair of Physics. Rutherford, his old student, now aged 48, was appointed as his replacement.
Starting in 1898 Rutherford studied the radiation emitted by uranium.At the age of 18 he left for the city of Christchurch, where he had won a scholarship to Canterbury College, now the University of Canterbury.