Reprinted in Classical Scientific Papers. Physics. Facsimile reproductions of famous scientific papers. Mills and Boon Limited, London (1964) 218.
The conception of the nuclear constitution of atoms arose initially from attempts to account for the scattering of -particles through large angles in traversing thin sheets of matter. (Geiger and Marsden, Proc. Roy. Soc. A82, 495 (1909)) Taking into account the large mass and velocity of the -particles, these large deflexions were very remarkable, and indicated that very intense electric or magnetic fields exist within
the atom. To account for these results, it was found necessary to assume (Rutherford, Phil. Mag. 21 (1911) 669; 27 (1914) 488) that the atom consists of a charged massive nucleus of dimensions very small compared with the ordinarily accepted magnitude of the diameter of the atom. This positively charged nucleus contains most of the mass of the atom, and is surrounded at a distance by a distribution of negative electrons equal in number to the resultant positive charge on the nucleus.
Under these conditions, a very intense electric field exists close to the nucleus, and the large deflexion of the -particle in an encounter with a single atom happens when the particle passes close to the nucleus. Assuming that the electric forces between the -particle and the nucleus varied according, to an inverse square law in the region close to the nucleus, the writer worked out the relations connecting the number
of -particles scattered through any angle with the charge on the nucleus and the energy of the -particle. Under the central field of force, the -particle describes a hyperbolic orbit round the nucleus, and the magnitude of the deflection depends on the closeness of approach to the nucleus. From the data of scattering of -particles then available,
it was deduced that the resultant charge on the nucleus was about 1 / 2Ae, where A is the atomic weight and e the fundamental unit of charge. Geiger and Marsden (Geiger and Marsden, Phil. Mag. 25 (1913) 604) made an elaborate series of experiments to test the correctness of the theory, and confirmed the main conclusions. They found the nucleus charge was about 1 / 2Ae, but, from the nature of the experiments, it was difficult to fix the actual value within about 20 per cent. C. G. Darwin (Darwin,
Phil. Mag. 27 (1914) 499) worked out completely the deflexion of the -particle and of the nucleus, taking into account the mass of the latter, and showed that the scattering experiments of Geiger and Marsden could not be reconciled with any law of central force, except the inverse square. The nuclear constitution of the atom was thus very strongly supported by the experiments on scattering of -rays. Since the atom
is electrically neutral, the number of external electrons surrounding the nucleus must be equal to the number of units of resultant charge on the nucleus. It should be noted that, from the consideration of the scattering of X rays by light elements, Barkla (Phil. Mag. 21 (1911) 648) had shown, in 1911, that the number of electrons was equal to about half the atomic weight. This was deduced from the theory of scattering of Sir J. J. Thomson, in which it was assumed that each of the external electrons
in an atom acted as an independent scattering unit. Two entirely different methods had thus given similar results with regard to the number of external electrons in the atom, but the scattering of rays had shown in addition that the positive charge must be concentrated on a massive nucleus of small dimensions. It was suggested by Van den Broek (Phys. Zeit. 14 (1913) 32) that the scattering of -particles by the
atoms was not inconsistent with the possibility that the charge on the nucleus was equal to the atomic number of the atom, i.e., to the number of the atom when arranged in order of increasing atomic weight. The importance of the atomic number in fixing the properties of an atom was shown by the remarkable work of Moseley (Phil. Mag. 26 (1913) 1024) on the X ray spectra of the elements. He showed that the frequency of vibration of corresponding lines in the X ray spectra of the elements depended
on the square of a number which varied by unity in successive elements. This relation received an interpretation by supposing that the nuclear charge varied by unity in passing, from atom to atom, and was given numerically by the atomic number. I can only emphasize in passing the great importance of Moseley's work, not only in fixing the number of possible elements, and the position of undetermined elements, but in showing that the properties of an atom were defined by a number which varied by unity
in successive atoms. This gives a new method of regarding the periodic classification of the elements, for the atomic number, or its equivalent the nuclear charge, is of more fundamental importance than its atomic weight. In Moseley's work the frequency of vibration of the atom was not exactly proportional to N, where N is the atomic number, but to (N - a)2,where a was a constant which had different values, depending on whether the K or L series of characteristic radiations were measured.
It was supposed that this constant depended on the number and position of the electrons close to the nucleus.
Related references See also H. Geiger and E. Marsden, Proc. Roy. Soc. A82 (1909) 495;
H. Geiger and E. Marsden, Phil. Mag. 25 (1913) 604;
E. Rutherford, Phil. Mag. 21 (1911) 669;
E. Rutherford, Phil. Mag. 27 (1914) 488;
E. Rutherford, Phil. Mag. 37 (1919) 538;
E. Rutherford, Phil. Mag. 37 (1919) 571;
R. J. Strutt, Proc. Roy. Soc. A80 (1908) 572;
C. G. Barkla, Phil. Mag. 21 (1911) 648;
A. van den Broek, Phys.Zeitschr. 14 (1913) 32;
H. G. J. Moseley, Phil. Mag. 26 (1913) 1024;
H. G. J. Moseley, Phil. Mag. 27 (1914) 703;
E. Marsden, Phil. Mag. 27 (1914) 824;
C. G. Darwin, Phil. Mag. 27 (1914) 499;