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Author: Richard Reeves
I am a biologist, but I adore Rutherford, a physicist. Reeves captures much of what I find so alluring in the character of Rutherford. He was so unassuming, always the New Zealand sheep herder in his demeanor. He was loud, aggressive, moody, jovial and endlessly curious. He was a giant of science, and in my opinion, should be regarded as Einstein’s equal. We know the atom because of Rutherford. What I did not know was how influential Rutherford was in helping Jewish scientists escape the horrors of Nazi Germany.
Rutherford was devoted to science. The one thing he wanted was to discover and to learn. Rutherford cared only about your ability to think and to discover. He stood with Marie Curie at a time when male chauvinism was standard. Reeves writes, “Though they competed and sometimes totally disagreed with each other’s scientific conclusions, Rutherford and Marie Curie became friends and allies in one struggle after another.” When a German scientist wrote Rutherford to ask him to kindly stop disparaging Nazi Germany, Rutherford replied, “This country [England] has always viewed with jealousy any interference with its intellectual freedom, whether with regard to science or learning in general. It believes that science should be international in its outlook and should have no regard to political opinion, creed or race.” He was a giant.