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McGill Reporter
October 11, 2001 - Volume 34 Number 03
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Hospitals on the sketching board

Photo Frederick Soddy
PHOTO: McGill Archives

Pretty much everybody has some rough sense of who Ernest Rutherford was and what he did. The loud and gregarious New Zealander ushered in the nuclear age with his pioneering work at McGill in the early 1900s on the nature of the atom.

That research netted Rutherford the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1907. In 1921, the same research effort garnered another onetime McGill scientist the Nobel, Rutherford's collaborator Frederick Soddy.

While Soddy didn't go on to enjoy the same sort of fame, Rutherford made it clear that he regarded Soddy's contributions to the work as crucial. The two didn't exactly hit it off right away, though.

In the second volume of his McGill University: For the Advancement of Learning, historian Stanley Frost recounts how Soddy, a demonstrator in the Department of Chemistry, left Rutherford "visibly shaken" after publicly challenging Rutherford's new theories about the atom and radioactivity. Chemists at the time were not keen on Rutherford's notion that atoms could disintegrate. But Soddy was intrigued by the controversial physicist's work and eventually became his partner, becoming, in his own words, "traitor to my own kind."

Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Tony Whitehead will discuss the Nobel Prize-winning duo in his presentation, "Soddy & Rutherford: a New Zealand Perspective" on Monday, October 15. All are welcome to attend the event in the Otto Maass Chemistry Building. A reception preceding Whitehead's talk will take place at 5 pm in Ruttan Room on the third floor. The presentation will occur at 6 pm in room 10 in the basement.

The event is co-sponsored by the James McGill Society and the McGill-Montreal Chapter of Sigma XI.

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