What Are the Main Points of Rutherford’s Nuclear Model of an Atom?

Paper Boat Creative/Digital VIsion/Getty Images

Rutherford’s nuclear model of the atom is a planetary model with electrons orbiting around a compact nucleus of protons, and it serves as the basic model of the atom. His proposed electron orbitals were relatively simple, unlike the later complex ones. However, Rutherford was the first person to propose the existence of the neutron, based on the disparities between atomic mass and atomic number, explains an Indiana Northwest University website.

When Rutherford came up with his nuclear model of the atom, the existence of charged particles within atoms was already known. However, the dominant model of atoms up to that point was the J. J. Thompson, or plum pudding, model. In this model, the positive charges were dispersed evenly throughout the atomic radius, and the compact electrons were embedded within. Experiments firing atoms at gold foil showed Rutherford that the Thompson model could not be true, however, and necessitated the small, dense nucleus for the atom, with the small electrons orbiting at a relatively great distance.

The modern model for the atom is based on Rutherford’s model, although the modern model has a great deal more complexity. Electron orbitals, for instance, are not actually like the orbits of planets, but are instead modeled as standing waves around the nucleus.