New Zealand-born British physicist who became known as the father of chemist and nuclear physics, succeeded in splitting the atom January 3, 1919. By bombarding nitrogen (N) atoms with alpha particles, he broke down the nucleus of the nitrogen atoms, releasing hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) atoms in the process. As a result he became the first true alchemist.
In early work he discovered the concept of radioactive half-life, proved that radioactivity involved the nuclear transmutation of one chemical element to another, and also differentiated and named alpha and beta radiation. It is the basis for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry he was awarded in 1908 “for his investigations into the disintegration of the elements, and the chemistry of radioactive substances”, for which he is the first Canadian and Oceanian Nobel laureate, and remains the only laureate born in the South Island.