In the early 1900s, the Rutherford Gold Foil Experiment helped scientists discover that every atom contains a nucleus. BackstageScience pays homage to this famous experiment by creating a modern reconstruction of the test.
To confirm their existence, Rutherford shot a beam of alpha particles through a thin foil of gold. 100 years ago, there were no high-tech detectors to register particles striking the foil, so Rutherford and his men had to sit in the dark for hours and count them one-by-one. Each time that happened, it showed that, while the gold foil was mostly empty space, there was also dense material—atomic nuclei—throughout that would deflect the alpha particles in various directions. In just one century, we have gone from this rudimentary experiment to a version that is well over 25 kilometers in circumference, (the Large Hadron Collider) capable of giving us all kinds of information about the atomic world.