Rutherford Atomic Model and Limitations

Rutherford Atomic Model – The plum pudding model is 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 proposed the atomic structure of elements and gave Rutherford Atomic Model.

Rutherford’s Alpha Scattering Experiment

Rutherford’s 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 it 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 positively charged particles and most of the mass of an atom was concentrated in an extremely small volume. He called this region of the atom as a nucleus.
  2. Rutherford 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 Rutherford model an electron would collapse in the nucleus in less than 10-8 seconds. So 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 were the base for future developments in the world of quantum mechanics.

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Rutherford's experiment on scattering of α-particles showed for the first time that the atom has