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Sidgwick's Photographs of Rutherford

Sidgwick's Photographs of Rutherford

These five photographs are what survive of a remarkable series of candid snapshots of Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937) on board ship en route to Australia for the 1914 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. (The lifeboats appear to bear the ship's name Aberdeen.) They are among the few photographs of Rutherford as a relatively young man (he was 42). They provide a rare opportunity to see one of the great figures of modern physics, already a Nobel Prize winner (1908), in relaxed and casual situations, at a time when academia was usually very formal in its manners and dress code. In several he is participating in deck sports, including badminton and a throwing game of some kind; in two he has his shirt-sleeves rolled up.

The occasion brought a miscellaneous group of British scientists not only to Australia but together in a relaxed atmosphere for the long sea voyage there, some of whom at a time of increasing specialisation might never otherwise have become acquainted. For some the results were more than just social. These photographs result from such an encounter. They were taken by the Oxford chemist N. V. Sidgwick (1873-1952), whose improbable ship-board friendship with Rutherford had profound effects on Sidgwick's subsequent career and scientific work, as well as helping to widen the acceptance and relevance of Rutherford's revolutionary new world of sub-atomic physics. From being an Oxford tutor of little more than local reputation Sidgwick became an important theoretical chemist and wrote several very influential works.

In one of the photographs (26192) a game of mixed-doubles badminton is taking place under awnings beside lifeboats. The inscription on the back of the photograph reads: 'N.V.S | 12 | Rutherford & Miss Banks | v Doherty & Mrs Dixon | 13 vii | HBD Umpiring'. H. B. Dixon, who began his career in Oxford in the 1880s, was professor of chemistry at Manchester, where Rutherford was professor of physics (1907-19).

For a photograph taken in Australia (not involving Rutherford) see 60471; for another early photograph of Rutherford (from a different source) see 12780.

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