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By Bichowsky F.R., Urey H.C.

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By 1909, Rutherford was an established professor, and had students working under him. For a raw undergraduate named Marsden, he picked a research project he thought would be tedious but straightforward. It was already known that although alpha particles would be stopped completely by a sheet of paper, they could pass through a sufficiently thin metal foil. Marsden was to work with a gold foil only 1000 atoms thick. (The foil was probably made by evaporating a little gold in a vacuum chamber so that a thin layer would be deposited on a glass microscope slide.

The skeptical reader may wonder why the planetary model was ignored so thoroughly until Marsden and Rutherford’s discovery. Is science really more of a sociological enterprise, in which certain ideas become accepted by the establishment, and other, equally plausible explanations are arbitrarily discarded? Some social scientists are currently ruffling a lot of scientists’ feathers with critiques very much like this, but in this particular case, there were very sound reasons for rejecting the planetary model.

The technique was essentially the same as the one Thomson had used to measure the mass-to-charge ratio of cathode rays by measuring their deflections in electric and magnetic fields. The only difference was that instead of the cathode of a vacuum tube, a nugget of radium was used to supply the beta rays. Not only was the technique the same, but so was the result. Beta rays had the same m/q ratio as cathode rays, which suggested they were one and the same. Nowadays, it would make sense simply to use the term “electron,” and avoid the archaic “cathode ray” and “beta particle,” but the old labels are still widely used, and it is unfortunately necessary for physics students to memorize all three names for the same thing.

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A Possible Explanation of the Relativity Doublets and Anomalous Zeeman Effect by Means of a Magnetic Electron by Bichowsky F.R., Urey H.C.


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