Rutherford & Oliphant: New book explores partnership

The Basis of Everything

Rutherford, Oliphant and the Coming of the Atomic Bomb
By Andrew Ramsey

Published by HarperCollins – AU
RRP $ 39.99 AUD; hardcover; 384pp;
ISBN: 9781460755235

This is the remarkable story of the friendship of two leading scientists of their day, between Australian-born Marcus Oliphant and Ernest Rutherford, the son of a New Zealand farmer, the elder of the pair by some 30 years.

Meeting for the first time in 1925, they were later to work together at the famous Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, where they worked on numerous atomic investigations, which would, ultimately, yield, according to Ramsey, ‘unimaginable breakthroughs, including television, computers, smartphones, wireless technology, satellite tracking, cancer treatments, medical imaging and the internet.’

Yet their work was also instrumental in developing the most devastating weapon of war – the atomic bomb.

By the time the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki towards the end of World War II, Rutherford had already passed away. Oliphant, however, was, understandably, forever troubled by the impact of the weapon he helped create.

Respected author and historian Ross Fitzgerald has reviewed this book at length. I encourage blog readers interested in this book to divert to this link for a more learned appreciation of this book.

Click on this link to read Fitzgerald’s review.

Together Oliphant and Rutherford were the giants of the emerging world of nuclear physics.

It is no surprise that Oliphant, in later life, regretted his return to the then scientific backwater of Australia, lured by Prime Minister Chifley to establish the Research School of Physical Sciences and Engineering at the newly-created Australian National University.

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