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Rutherford's Atomic Model

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A game of tennis on the atomic level

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/meddygarnet/3817630538/sizes/l/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0


In tennis, if the ball hits the net, it bounces right back. Rarely does it ever fly through. This reinforces our conception of a solid world, one in which we can’t quite walk through walls--a physical world, in which tennis balls bounce back from solid objects like nets.

However, on the atomic level, our world is far less solid than we think. Now imagine that we play a game of "atomic tennis" where we will use a different type of net. Most of the balls you throw will actually fly right on through it because on an atomic level, this net material is mostly empty space. As you know, any material is made of atoms, which are mostly empty space. Nevertheless, a "tennis ball" will occasionally fly through the net at an angle or even bounce right back.

With your knowledge of Rutherford’s gold foil experiment, can you explain how this game of "atomic tennis" works?

Creative Applications

First, explain how the elements in the tennis game analogy correspond to the scientific set-up of Rutherford’s experiment.

Why is there so much empty space in an atomic tennis net for the ball to fly through? Why does the ball occasionally bounce back?

How often would you expect a "tennis ball" to bounce back according to Rutherfords experiment?

Now explain how Rutherford therefore came to his version of the atomic model.


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