Sir Ernest Rutherford's laboratory, early 20th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Sir Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) was born in New Zealand, coming to England to study at Cambridge in 1895, but moving to McGill University, Montreal, Canada, in 1898. There he built upon the work of H Becquerel (1852-1908) and M Curie (1867-1934) to show that radiation was made up of alpha, beta and gamma rays. In 1911, having returned to Britain, he proposed a new structure for the atom, seeing it as a miniature solar system with the nucleus at the centre and electrons orbiting it. He went on to split the atom and, in 1920, suggested that hydrogen nuclei, or protons, were the building blocks of all matter. He received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908.