Ernest, Lord Rutherford: Correspondence and Papers

Scope and Content

The collection is divided into papers and correspondence. The first section comprises 12 boxes of miscellaneous teaching and research notes; public addresses and speeches; lecture material, including Royal Institution lecture notes and lectures to learned societies and other bodies; drafts of published works; laboratory notebooks; biographical material, such as memberships cards and obituaries; and photographs and miscellanea.

The correspondence consists of original letters and xeroxed copies of several hundred Rutherford letters held elsewhere, mostly addressed to Rutherford. The greatest number of letters relate to the period 1906-1915. There are fewer for the period after his return to Cambridge in 1919. The letters cover Rutherford's relations with the Royal Society, the Royal Instutition, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Board of Invention and Research, the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, the Solvay Foundation, and other organisations. Some of the principal individuals represented in the correspondence are B.B. Boltwood, N. Bohr, R.W Boyle, W.H. Bragg, J. Chadwick, J. Cockcroft, M. Curie, A.S. Eve, K. Fajans, H. Geiger, O. Hahn, G.E. Hale, G. Hevesy, J. Joly, L.V. King, J. Larmor, G.N. Lewis, E. Marsden, S. Meyer, J.N. Pring, O.W. Richardson, H.R. Robinson, A. Schuster, F. Soddy, and J.J. Thomson.

Administrative / Biographical History

Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), Baron Rutherford of Nelson, was born in Nelson, New Zealand. In 1895 he came to England to be a research student under J.J. Thomson at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge. His first professorial appointment was at McGill University in Montreal, 1898-1907, where he and Frederick Soddy advanced the transformation theory, the still-accepted interpretation of the phenomenon of radioactivity. While in Canada Rutherford also made contact with two other outstanding chemists, Bertram Boltwood of Yale University, with whom he collaborated by mail, and Otto Hahn, who came to spend a year under his guidance.

Rutherford returned to England to work at the University of Manchester, 1907-1919, where he succeeded Arthur Schuster as director of the physical laboratory. At the university Hans Geiger, a staff member, and Ernest Marsden, a student, performed the alpha particle scattering experiments that led Rutherford to formulate the concept of the nuclear atom in 1911. Other notable research students at Manchester at this time included Kasmir Fajans, George de Hevesy, James Chadwick, and Niels Bohr. Shortly before leaving Manchester in 1919 for Cambridge, where he succeeded his own teacher, J.J. Thomson, Rutherford announced a major discovery, the artificial transformation of one element into another. This work was continued in the Cavendish Laboratory, primarily with Chadwick's aid. From 1925 to 1930 Rutherford was President of the Royal Society.

Access Information

Open for consultation by holders of a Reader's Ticket valid for the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Acquisition Information

Transferred from the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, 1964.


Description compiled by Robert Steiner, Department of Manuscripts and University Archives, with reference to Lawrence Badash's Rutherford Correspondence Catalogue.

Other Finding Aids

A catalogue is available in the Manuscripts Reading Room. See also Lawrence Badash, Rutherford Correspondence Catalogue (American Institute of Physics, 1974), which is also available in the Manuscripts Reading Room.

Custodial History

The papers were desposited at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, by Lady Rutherford upon Rutherford's death.


A.S. Eves's biography, Rutherford (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939), contains many copies of Rutherford's letters to his fiancee, the location of the originals of which is not known.