Science Walk KS1 – Stop 5: Mond Laboratory

At each stop on the walk there will be a story and an activity. Worksheets for children to use during the walk need to be downloaded and printed off at school and brought with you.

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 5

Story Five:
Ernest Rutherford (1871–1937)


• Stand beside the Mond building; look at the picture of the crocodile carved on the wall

This picture of a crocodile was put here to remember Ernest Rutherford, one of the scientists who worked in the ­Cavendish laboratory.

I wonder what the picture tells us about his character?

Rutherford could be snappy, but the crocodile is also thought of being a good father, and Rutherford looked after his students. The crocodile is also said to be unable to look round and see its tail, and Rutherford was always looking forward to the next scientific discovery.

This is what he actually looked like:

• Show the photograph of Rutherford – Resource Card M

Didn’t he have a wonderful moustache?

• Who would like to try one on? – Artefact 14

Ernest Rutherford could be very fierce and crocodile-like, but there was a way of telling what kind of mood he was in, and whether it was a good idea to go into his laboratory. When his research was going well he would stride around singing hymns!

• Go to the Whipple Museum, or back to St Bene’t’s church to hear the story

Ernest was born on a farm in New Zealand around 140 years ago [just before James Clerk Maxwell died], and he died in England just before the Second World War.

• Show map of New Zealand – Artefact 15

He was interested in science even when he was a child. He used to use some of the things lying around on the farm to do experiments. He once made a cannon out of a brass tube from a hat stand, with a marble for a cannon ball and real gunpowder as the charge. The cannon ball didn’t hit the target, but the explosion destroyed the cannon!

When he was a university student in New Zealand, Ernest’s first experiments were with magnets [just like William Gilbert] and then he got interested in electromagnetism [like James Clerk Maxwell]. Eventually he realised that he needed to share ideas with other scientists, so he left New Zealand and travelled the world – he became a professor in Canada, then at Manchester University, and finally here in Cambridge.

Throughout his life Rutherford built his own equipment for his experiments out of things he found lying around the laboratory. He could do something that most people can’t – he could look at something really complicated and see simplicity. He saw how beautiful the world was, and how everything worked together in harmony.

He never forgot the experiments he did as a boy on the farm, and saw himself as a simple man. Someone said he had simple ideas, simple equipment, but powerful results.

Rutherford was very interested in atoms. They are incredibly small, and can’t even be seen with the most powerful microscope.

Rutherford helped the world of science by working out what an atom looked like – which is very tricky for something so tiny!

If you made a little dot with the tip of a sharpened pencil, and that dot was just made up of atoms, then there would be about four billion billion atoms in it. And what is more amazing, is that most of the atom is made up of empty space!

Activity Five:
Crocodile Picture

I wonder if you would like to do a drawing of Rutherford’s crocodile?

Or you might like to draw an animal that helps to show what your personality is like.

Rutherford could be a bit snappy, like the crocodile’s teeth.

But he cared for his students like the father crocodile cares for his young.

He was always looking for the next discovery, like the crocodile which has to look ahead and can’t look back at its tail.

 What are you like? Which animal could help you to explain yourself?

Background information for teachers

Stop 1 | Stop 2 | Stop 3 | Stop 4 | Stop 5