Rutherford Atomic Model and Limitations

Rutherford Atomic Model – The plum pudding model given by J. J. Thomson failed to explain certain experimental results associated with the atomic structure of elements. Ernest Rutherford, a British scientist conducted an experiment and based on the observations of this experiment, he explained the atomic structure of elements and proposed Rutherford’s Atomic Model.

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Rutherford’s Alpha Scattering Experiment

Rutherford conducted an experiment by bombarding a thin sheet of gold with α-particles and then studied the trajectory of these particles after their interaction with the gold foil.

Rutherford Atomic Model

Rutherford, in his experiment, directed high energy streams of α-particles from a radioactive source at a thin sheet (100 nm thickness) of gold. In order to study the deflection caused to the α-particles, he placed a fluorescent zinc sulphide screen around the thin gold foil. Rutherford made certain observations that contradicted Thomson’s atomic model.

Observations of Rutherford’s Alpha Scattering Experiment

The observations made by Rutherford led him to conclude that:

  1. A major fraction of the α-particles bombarded towards the gold sheet passed through the sheet without any deflection, and hence most of the space in an atom is empty.
  2. Some of the α-particles were deflected by the gold sheet by very small angles, and hence the positive charge in an atom is not uniformly distributed. The positive charge in an atom is concentrated in a very small volume.
  3. Very few of the α-particles were deflected back, that is only a few α-particles had nearly 180o angle of deflection. So the volume occupied by the positively charged particles in an atom is very small as compared to the total volume of an atom.

Rutherford Atomic Model

Based on the above observations and conclusions, Rutherford proposed the atomic structure of elements. According to the Rutherford atomic model:

  1. The positive charge and most of the mass of an atom is concentrated in an extremely small volume. He called this region of the atom as a nucleus.
  2. Rutherford’s model proposed that the negatively charged electrons surround the nucleus of an atom. He also claimed that the electrons surrounding the nucleus revolve around it with very high speed in circular paths. He named these circular paths as orbits.
  3. Electrons being negatively charged and nucleus being a densely concentrated mass of positively charged particles are held together by a strong electrostatic force of attraction.

Limitations of Rutherford Atomic Model

Although the Rutherford atomic model was based on experimental observations, it failed to explain certain things.

  • Rutherford proposed that the electrons revolve around the nucleus in fixed paths called orbits. According to Maxwell, accelerated charged particles emit electromagnetic radiations and hence an electron revolving around the nucleus should emit electromagnetic radiation. This radiation would carry energy from the motion of the electron which would come at the cost of shrinking of orbits. Ultimately the electrons would collapse in the nucleus. Calculations have shown that as per the Rutherford model, an electron would collapse into the nucleus in less than 10-8 seconds. So the Rutherford model was not in accordance with Maxwell’s theory and could not explain the stability of an atom.
  • One of the drawbacks of the Rutherford model was also that he did not say anything about the arrangement of electrons in an atom which made his theory incomplete.
  • Although the early atomic models were inaccurate and failed to explain certain experimental results, they formed the base for future developments in the world of quantum mechanics.

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Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

What was the speciality of Rutherford’s atomic model?

Rutherford was the first to determine the presence of a nucleus in an atom. He bombarded α-particles on a gold sheet, which made him encounter the presence of positively charged specie inside the atom.

What is Rutherford’s atomic model?

Rutherford proposed the atomic structure of elements. He explained that a positively charged particle is present inside the atom, and most of the mass of an atom is concentrated over there. He also stated that negatively charged particles rotate around the nucleus, and there is an electrostatic force of attraction between them.

What are the limitations of Rutherford’s atomic model?

Rutherford failed to explain the arrangement of electrons in an atom. Like Maxwell, he was unable to explain the stability of the atom.

What kind of experiment did Rutherford’s perform?

Rutherford performed an alpha scattering experiment. He bombarded α-particles on a gold sheet and then studied the trajectory of these α-particles.

What was the primary observation of Rutherford’s atomic model?

Rutherford observed that a microscopic positively charged particle is present inside the atom, and most of the mass of an atom is concentrated over there.

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  4. I am very happy with the answer that I obtained, however Ernest Rutherford’s Atomic Model never had any neutrons in the nucleus. James Chadwick discovered the neutron later in 1932. However, the limitations and observations of his theory on this web page seem to be correct.

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