5. Neutrons from beryllium

The alpha-particles from the radioactive source hit the beryllium nuclei and transformed them into carbon nuclei, leaving one free neutron. When this neutron hit the hydrogen nuclei in the wax it could knock a proton free, in the same way that a white snooker ball can transfer all its energy to a red snooker ball.

Rutherford gave the best description of a neutron as a highly penetrating neutral particle with a mass similar to the proton. We now know it is not a combination of an electron and a proton. Quantum mechanics restricts an electron from getting that close to the proton, and measurements of nuclear 'spin' provide experimental proof that the nucleus does not contain electrons.

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