Ernest Marsden

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Professor Ernest Marsden
Born (1889-02-19)19 February 1889
Died 15 December 1970(1970-12-15) (aged 81)
Institutions University of Manchester
Alma mater University of Manchester
Victoria University of Wellington
Known for Geiger–Marsden experiment
Influences Hans Geiger
Ernest Rutherford[1]
Notable awards Fellow of the Royal Society[1]

Sir Ernest Marsden CMG CBE MC JP (19 February 1889 – 15 December 1970) was an English-New Zealand physicist.


Born in East Lancashire, Marsden lived in Rishton and attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn, where an inter-house trophy rewarding academic excellence ('The Marsden Merit Trophy') bears his name.

He met Ernest Rutherford at the University of Manchester. While still an undergraduate he conducted the famous Geiger–Marsden experiment, called the gold foil experiment, together with Hans Geiger in 1909 under Rutherford's supervision. In that same year he helped Geiger to develop the Geiger counter.[citation needed] In 1915 he moved to Victoria University College in New Zealand as Professor of Physics; Rutherford recommended his appointment there.


Marsden served in France during World War I as a Royal Engineer in a special sound-ranging section and earned the Military Cross. Following the war he became New Zealand's leading scientist, founding the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in 1926 and organizing its research particularly in the area of agriculture. During World War II he worked on radar research and in 1947 became scientific liaison officer in London. He died at his home in Lowry Bay, Lower Hutt on the shores of Wellington harbour in 1970.

Honours and awards[edit]

Marsden's career recognitions included fellowship in the Royal Society[1] of London in 1946, president of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1947 and the Rutherford Memorial Lecture in 1948.

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal[2] and appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Silver Jubilee and King's Birthday Honours.[3] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in the 1946 New Year Honours[4] and a Knight Bachelor in the 1958 New Year Honours, for services to science.[5]

Honorific eponyms[edit]

The Marsden Fund for basic research in New Zealand was set up in 1994. Massey University has named a major lecture theatre after him.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Fleming, C. A. (1971). "Ernest Marsden 1889-1970". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 17: 462. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1971.0018.  edit
  2. ^ "Official jubilee medals". Evening Post CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 19 March 2014. 
  3. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34166. p. 3609. 3 June 1935. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 37410. p. 157. 1 January 1946. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 41270. p. 43. 1 January 1958. Retrieved 5 April 2014.
  6. ^[dead link]

Further reading[edit]