Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937)

Where can I find information about Ernest Rutherford?

Junior Secondary

(Years 7-10)

Colour photo of a statue of Ernest Rutherford (as a child) at the Rutherford memorial in Brightwater, Aotearoa NZ.

Image: Statue of Ernest Rutherford by sculptor Paul Walshe, at the Rutherford memorial, Brightwater. Photograph by Louise Gribbon. Used with permission.

Entry last updated: 16/09/22


Ernest Rutherford was born in Nelson, New Zealand in 1871. A great scientist, he was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908, the Order of Merit in 1925, and was given a title in 1931 as Lord Rutherford (Baron Rutherford of Nelson). Today he is remembered as the father of nuclear physics, for his experiments with radioactivity and discovering the nuclear structure of the atom. He was the first person to create an artificial nuclear reaction or split the atom.

General Websites

Did you know that Ernest Rutherford's work forms the basis for radioactive dating? Use the following websites to find more information about his life, work and legacy.

Britannica School

This website is a part of EPIC, a collection of reliable databases put together especially for New Zealand school students. It covers lots of topics including famous scientist like Ernest Rutherford.

  • Start with the Middle option.

  • Enter the keywords 'Ernest Rutherford' into the search box.

  • Select Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937) British physicist and scientist to read information about him.

  • Go to Reading Level 3 at the top of the page to read more detailed information.

  • Or, you can select Reading Level 1 if you just want quick facts.

  • If you search the Secondary level for 'Ernest Rutherford' you will find Rutherford model about the atomic model and gold foil experiment.

Tip: To get to the EPIC resources you may need a password from your school librarian. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

Te Ara - The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. It contains the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (DNZB) which has information about the lives andcareersof over 3,000 famous New Zealanders.

  • Look down the page to the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

  • Look under the alphabet 'R', or enter 'Ernest Rutherford' into the search box.

  • Select the biography of Ernest Rutherford to read about his life and achievements.

Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .govt or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About us or Contact pages.

This site has an enormous amount of facts, photos and other resources on Ernest Rutherford. It is maintained by John Campbell a physicist from the University of Canterbury, who has written books on Ernest Rutherford.

  • Explore Biography to read about Rutherford's childhood, education and work.

  • Go to Honouring Rutherford to find a list of buildings, medals, schools and places named in honour of him, and when he was featured on the New Zealand banknote.

  • Read Sponsors and Miscellaneous to find out about Rutherford's Nobel Prize and the myths around it.

Tips: Websites that have .org or .net in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. This site does not have an About us link on the website that explains the misson and values of the organisation. Instead there are details on the home page about who maintains and updates this website from time to time.

The Prow: Ngā kōrero o te Tau Ihu

This local history website for Te Tau Ihu (The Top of the South Island) has true stories about Rutherford.

Audio & Video

Check out these great online videos and audio recordings about Ernest Rutherford.

NZ On Screen

This website has a collection of New Zealand film, television, music videos and documentaries.

  • Enter 'Ernest Rutherford' into the search box at the top of the page.

  • Select to watch Rutherford of Nelson.

Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the company’s mission and values are.


DigitalNZ is a search site that connects you to a variety of New Zealand libraries, museums, galleries, government departments, media, community groups and more.

  • Enter the keywords 'Ernest Rutherford' into the search box.

  • You will find a range of videos, audio, images, and articles to explore.

  • Start with the audio of Rutherford's legacy, where his great-granddaughter recalls family stories and his scientific achievements.

Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called “pearl growing” because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!


Ask your school librarian or public librarian for books about Ernest Rutherford. Here are some to help begin your search:

SCIS no: 5368684

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