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Lab manual for Rutherford Scattering lab experiment. This is designed for an undergraduate level advanced physics lab course.

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Evan Rule

May 8, 2013

Abstract

In order to investigate the nature of the atomic nucleus, we carry out a series of scattering

experiments to measure the deection of -particles passing through a thin metal foil. By

observing phenomena such as back-scattering, we can draw qualitative conclusions about the

structure of the atom, and by measuring the angular dependence of the scattering rate we can

make a determination of the atomic number of aluminum, which we nd to be Z

Al

= 13.

1 Introduction

Determining the structure of the atom was one of the primary goals of early 20th century physics.

Prior to 1911, the accepted model of the atom was the so-called plum pudding model, which

hypothesized that the atom consists of negative charges distributed throughout a positively charged

sphere. In 1909, Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Ernest Rutherford,

carried out a scattering experiment to probe the nature of the atom. The results of this experiment

contradicted the predictions of the plum pudding model and eventually led to the development of

the Bohr model of the atom.

Rutherford scattering occurs when a beam of -particles is directed normally onto a sheet of

thin gold foil in a vacuum chamber. The -particles interact with the atoms in the foil via the

Coulomb force and scatter elastically. While many -particles pass directly through the foil, the

interesting result occurs when particles are deected at large angles (in some cases > 90

). These

large deections suggest that the atom consists of a small, dense, positively charge nucleus, not a

large positively charged sphere as described by the plum pudding model.

2 Experiment and Data

In order to probe the nature of the atom, we employ a modernized version of the apparatus used

by Geiger and Marsden. By measuring the scattering rate N at dierent scattering angles , we

can make a determination of the angular dependency of the counting rate. Based on the scattering

theory developed from the results of Rutherfords experiments, we anticipate the relation

N() = N

0

c

f

d

f

d

d

, (1)

where N

0

is the incident -particle rate, c

f

is the atomic concentration of the foil, d

f

is the thickness

of the foil, is the solid angle into which the particles are scattered, and d/d is the dierential

cross section dened as

d

d

=

Z

1

Z

2

e

2

8

0

E

2

1

sin

4

(/2)

. (2)

1

Figure 1: An overview of the Rutherford Scattering experiment. (1) is the vacuum scattering chamber, (2)

is the discriminator preamplier, (3) is the digital counter. (Image taken from Leybold Didactic)

Here, Z

1

and Z

2

are the atomic numbers of the foil particles and -particles, respectively, and

E

2.1 Apparatus

The apparatus consists of a scattering chamber which can be evacuated via the vacuum pump to

< 100 Pa. Inside the chamber, the foil sample is secured in the swivel arm. A collimator slit

ensures that the -particles are normally incident on the gold foil. Knobs on top of the chamber

allow us to adjust the angle of the swivel platform, and thus the scattering angle. The source of the

-particles in our experiment is Americium-241. The chamber is also equipped with an -particle

detector, which is connected rst to the discriminator preamplier and then to the digital counter.

The digital counter and attached computer allow us to record the number of -particle detections

recorded in a given time interval. The thickness of both the gold and aluminum foil are measured

using a micrometer. To avoid damaging the foil samples, it is necessary to be extremely careful

when handling them and when evacuating the chamber.

2.2 Procedure

In preparation for the experiment, we insert the americium-241 sample and the gold foil into

the scattering chamber. For angles less than 30

moving the swivel holder to the edge of the chamber and aligning the slit diaphragm of the detector

vertically, we then close and evacuate the chamber using the vacuum pump. Beginning with the

swivel angle set to = 0

For angles in the range 10

40 consecutive intervals. For angles 15

and 20

second interval for 6 consecutive intervals. This ensures that we are taking data for roughly the

same amount of time as at the smaller angles. For angles 25

and 30

the amount of time needed to accumulate 5 counts. We do so because the counting rate is very low

for these large angles. We then set the swivel platform to = 5

until we have reached 30

.

After data collection for gold is complete, we carefully depressurize the chamber, remove the

gold foil and replace it with the aluminum foil sample. We then evacuate the chamber and set the

angle to 10

consecutive intervals. The rst 15 of these trials are conducted with the chamber uncovered and

exposed to the ambient lighting of the room. The last 15 trials are conducted with the chamber

2

Figure 2: A plot of count rate vs. scattering angle for gold foil. The red points show data taken in the

range 30

and the corresponding errors. Here, we assume that the distribution of measurements for each

angle is roughly Gaussian. The black line shows the best-t function (see Eq. (6)).

covered by an opaque black cloth. These results will allow us to check whether the excess lighting

can aect our results.

In order to observe back-scattering (i.e. scattering at large angles), we replace the 1-mm col-

limator with the 5-mm collimator. We then set the angle to = 120

counter to record the total number of counts registered. Because the background is essentially zero

at large angles, we can be sure that any counts registered at such large angles are indeed genuine

detections.

Data and Error Estimation When our data collection is complete, we have measurements of

the number of counts, n() per given time interval, t, for various scattering angles. For each angle,

we can then dene the counting rate

N() =

n()

t

counts/s, (3)

where n() is the number of counts recorded in a time interval of length t seconds at scattering

angle . Fig. 2 shows our results, represented as a plot of log(N()). Note: due to the nature of

the angle grid-lines on the chamber, the uncertainty in our measurement of the scattering angle is

=2.5

. We can then use this distribution to compare our results to the theoretically determined

relation

N()

1

sin

4

(/2)

. (4)

3

Figure 3: This plot shows the number of counts recorded in a 60 second interval for 2,000 consecutive time

intervals. For these trials, the angle was set to 0

this data to a linear function, we see that the vacuum in the scattering chamber shows no appreciable time

dependence on time scales less than 16 hours. The black solid line shows the best-t linear function.

Figure 4: This plot shows background data taken in the range 7.5

Gaussian function (black line). Analysis reveals that the background is not centered at zero, but is biased

slightly towards positive angles. By nding the functional form of the background, we are able to account

for detector noise when we t our actual data.

4

3 Analysis

In order to verify that the vacuum inside of the scattering chamber remains constant with time, we

record the number of counts per 60 second interval for 2000 consecutive time intervals. The results

of this measurement are shown in Fig. 3. We then t this data to a linear function of the form

f(x) = ax + b. We nd the best t value for the parameter a 10

4

, which indicates that the

vacuum in our scattering chamber is constant to approximately 1 count per 60,000 seconds. Since

each session of data collection is completed in less than 16 hours ( 60,000 seconds), we conclude

that our data has no systematic time dependence.

Having established the time independence of our data, we make the assumption that our mea-

surements from repeated trials at a given angle follow a distribution that is roughly Gaussian, and

as a result, we can justify averaging over all trials for a given angle. Then, we t our background

data to a Gaussian function of the form

B() = Ae

(C)

2

/D

2

, (5)

from which we nd that the background is centered at C 0.34

the data in Fig. 2, which shows a small but denitive bias towards positive angles. Analysis of our

background t yields

2

= 291. Further details about the background are shown in Fig. 4. Once

we have determined the functional form of the background, we can then t our data to a function

of the form

N() = c

1

B() +

c

2

sin

4

(/2 C)

, (6)

where B() is the background function and C is the center of the background Gaussian. We employ

a weighted tting algorithm, where for each angle, the weight is given by the standard deviation of

all trials conducted at that angle. We obtain the best t value of

c

2

= (3.3 0.7) 10

8

s

1

. (7)

Analysis of this t yields

2

=372.

Using Eq. (1) and Eq. (2), we can check that our best t parameter is indeed reasonable.

Combining these two equations, we see that the theoretically predicted value for c

2

is given by

c

2

= N

0

c

f

d

f

Z

1

Z

2

e

2

8

0

E

2

. (8)

From the literature, we adopt c

f

= 5.9 10

22

cm

3

, Z

1

= 79, Z

2

= 2, E

the value of N

0

as the amplitude of the Gaussian function which we used to model our background.

This assumption yields N

0

= 43.9 counts/s. Using the micrometer, we measure the thickness of

the gold foil to be d

f

= 0.006 0.003 mm. Thus, the only free parameter in Eq. (8) is the solid

angle . We can check our result for c

2

by using our best-t value to estimate the area of the

detector. If we assume that the distance from the gold foil to the detector is r 10 cm, then we

can use the relation

=

a

2

r

2

, (9)

to estimate the value of a, the radius of the detectors surface. Given the parameters as described

above, we determine the radius of the detector to be a 0.1 mm. While this value appears to be

smaller than expected, it is not an unreasonable size for the detector, though we can likely conclude

that our determined value of c

2

= 3.3 10

8

s

1

is less than the actual value of this constant.

5

4 Discussion

In general, a large

2

value is indicative of a poor t, which is apparent from Fig. 2, though the

logarithmic scale does exaggerate the residuals. From this plot, we see that our model underesti-

mates the rate of counts at every angle. This is likely an indication that in our eorts to account for

background noise, we have removed actual data points at angles 10

background as a Gaussian function, we introduce a systematic error. Specically, the background

should be truncated beyond a certain angle. However, the Gaussian function extends, in theory, to

, the end result being that we account for background noise where there theoretically should

be none, yielding a suboptimal t for our data. It might be possible to correct for this eect by

modifying the Gaussian function with an appropriate window function, though this ltering would

likely lead to signicant complications when tting the data.

We can make a further check on our results by using Eq. (1) and (2) to obtain the relation

N

Au

N

Al

=

Z

2

Au

d

Au

Z

2

Al

d

Al

. (10)

Using the micrometer, we measure d

Al

= 0.010 0.003 mm. We consider = 10

as our ducial

trial, which yields

Z

Al

= 13.0 0.6, (11)

from which we determine that the most likely value for the atomic number of Aluminum is Z

Al

=

13. Here, the error was obtained by adding the relevant errors in quadrature. Indeed, the atomic

number of Aluminum is 13. Given our accuracy in determining this value, we can take this as

further evidence that our poor t in Fig. 2 is the result of some systematic error introduced by

our tting algorithm. At the very least, we can conclude that any systematic errors present in our

apparatus have an equal eect on both gold and aluminum scattering.

A nal systematic error which we investigate is whether or not shielding the scattering chamber

from sources of light has any eect on our measurements. To do so, we examine the results of

our measurements for aluminum, half of which were taken with the chamber covered and half with

the chamber exposed to the well-lit room. We nd that the average number of counts recorded

within a 60 second interval agree within error between the two sets of trials. However, the standard

deviation of the uncovered trials is nearly twice as large as the standard deviation of the covered

trials. This could be evidence that covering the apparatus improves the reliability of the detector,

but more data is needed to draw conclusions with any certainty.

Lastly, we recount that we observed back-scattering of -particles at angle 120

. Scattering

at such a large angle is evidence that the atom consists of a small, very dense nucleus which is

positively charged. This picture of the atom runs contradictory to Thompsons plum-pudding

model. Therefore, based on the results of the Rutherford scattering experiment, we can reject the

plum-pudding model of the atom in favor of a model much closer to that developed by Niels Bohr.

5 Conclusion

Based on our quantitative results, we can conclude that the counting rate varies with the scattering

angle according to

N()

1

sin

4

(/2)

. (12)

We determine the constant of proportionality for this relationship to be c

2

= (3.3 0.7) 10

8

s

1

, which agrees well with the theory of Rutherford scattering. We also make an experimental

6

determination of the atomic number of aluminum and nd that Z

Al

= 13. From our quantitative

results, we note that our best-t function for the angular dependence was less than ideal and that

the source of this error is likely the model which we employed to account for background noise.

With regards to our qualitative result, the observation of scattering at angles larger than 90

is an

indication that plum pudding model of the atom is incorrect. Alternatively, we propose a model in

which the atom consists of a small, dense, positively charged nucleus.

References

[1] Leybold Didactic, Rutherford Scattering Instruction Sheet, 1990.

7

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