Ernest

Another excerpt from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, ©2003:

For all his success, (Ernest) Rutherford was not an especially brilliant man and was actually pretty terrible at mathematics. Often during lectures he would get so lost in his own equations that he would give up halfway through and tell the students to work it out for themselves. According to his longtime colleague James Chadwick, discover of the neutron, he wasn’t even particularly clever at experimentation. He was simply tenacious and open minded. For brilliance he substituted shrewdness and a kind of daring. His mind, in the words of one biographer, was “always operating out towards the frontiers, as far as he could see, and that was a great deal further than most other men.” Confronted with an intractable problems, he was prepared to work at it harder and longer than most people and to be more receptive to unorthodox explanations. His greatest breakthrough came because he was prepared to spend immensely tedious hours sitting at a screen counting alpha particle scintillations, as they were known – the sort of work that would normally have been farmed out. He was one of the first to see – possibly the very first – that the power inherent in the atom could, if harnessed, make bombs powerful enough to “make this old world vanish in smoke.”

This is the sort of person kids should be reading about in school. Tenacity and open-mindedness are skills we can all cultivate.

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One thought on “Ernest

  1. …these qualities (tenacity and open-mindedness) are among those which divide people from the lives that they settle for from the lives that they know are possible for them…

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