Ernest Rutherford is considered one of New Zealand's most successful and respected scientists. Born in Nelson in 1871, he was educated at Nelson College for Boys, before attending Canterbury College. In 1892 he gained a BA in Pure Mathematics and Latin, and followed on with Master of Arts (with double First Class Honours) in Mathematics, Mathematical Physics, and Physical Science, and a BSc in Chemistry and Geology. In 1895 he began study at the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge where he conducted studies into electromagnetic waves, and radioactivity.
Rutherford accepted a professorship at McGill University in 1898, and remained there till 1907 when he transferred to Manchester University. He continued his studies into radioactivity, and applied them to the structure of the atom. In 1904 he was awarded the Rumford Medal, his first major science prize, followed by the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1908. After contributing to the war effort by studying means of detecting submarines, he capped his career by becoming the Director of Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory in 1919. Rutherford died in 1937, having been knighted and elevated to the Peerage as Ernest, Lord Rutherford of Nelson.
The Rutherford Medal Collection was placed into the University's care by Lady Rutherford in 1938, after the death of her husband the year before. She hoped that the collection would be preserved and if possible displayed by the College. The collection consists of 36 medals, insignias and plaques. Included are thirty four medals presented to Rutherford in his lifetime, (23 dedicated awards, and 11 commemorative) and a further two medals struck in 1971 to commemorate the centenary of Rutherford's birth.
The medals reflect various styles from Rococo to neo-classicism through to realism. Many of the medals were designed in the late nineteenth century, and in art historical terms, they provide valuable insight into the Paris-centred Belle Époque and the American Beaux-arts styles, seen especially in the designs of French and American medallists.
The library holds a large collection of original and secondary source material relating to Rutherford, including 26 academic diplomas, scientific papers, a short film and sound recordings.
Most material can be found via the Library catalogue. You can search for the manuscripts in Kā Kohika - see the Rutherford 'Popular Collections'.
For more information refer to Golden Atoms The Ernest Rutherford Medals, Mark Stocker, University of Canterbury Press, 1999.