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Rutherford's Atomic Model

Role of gold foil experiment in refining atomic model.

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Credit: Jon Sullivan
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moon_night.jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

There was a time when many people believed that the moon was made out of green cheese. Well, maybe they didn’t really believe it. History suggests that the phrase was often used to indicate a gullible person. However, we can trace this idea throughout the folklore of many civilizations. In addition, many children today will tell you that the moon is made out of green cheese, even after the moon landings that brought back rocks. Of course, there are still those that believe the moon landings were faked.

Amazing But True

  • How do we use models in science? A model is simply a way of representing what the scientist believes is real. We all recognize that a model is not the real thing, but it does give us an idea of what to look for in the real thing.
  • Credit: Anonymous
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flammarion.jpg
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Models are often proven wrong. For a long time people believed in a flat Earth. This image shows a man looking over the edge of the world [Figure2]


  • A major use of a model in science is to develop ways to test the model. The model can be used to make a prediction about the phenomenon under consideration. Thomson’s model of the atom would suggest a fairly solid material. A prediction that could be made would be this: material shot at the atoms would always bounce back.
  • Rutherford had a different model that could be used to predict another type of pattern. In Rutherford’s model, material shot at the atoms might bounce back or might pass through. The experiments falsified the Thomson model, because material went through the atom. These tests supported the Rutherford model, but did not conclusively prove all the details of this idea.
  • Interestingly enough, the “moon is made of green cheese” theory has not been completely proven wrong. The materials brought back are from only a small area of the moon. Nobody has dug down deep enough to be sure that there is no green cheese under the surface. We have not explored the entire surface of the moon. So there could be some validity to this theory. However, we shouldn’t count on snacking on the moon anytime soon. There just isn’t enough data available to allow us to take this theory seriously.
  • Watch a video about moon rocks at the link below:


Show What You Know

Use the following links to learn more about validation of theories. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What are two things that a theory does?
  2. What do observations produce?
  3. How is Thomson’s theory presented incorrectly today?
  4. Did Thomson’s model say anything about protons?
  5. What could not be explained by Rutherford’s model?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Jon Sullivan; Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moon_night.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: Anonymous; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flammarion.jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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