Students in Ms. Rorie’s 11th grade chemistry class at Melbourne High School recently engaged in a lab designed to explore the mathematical theory of probability and to investigate Rutherford’s Gold Foil Experiment. For the lesson, students were asked to determine the diameter of a marble using a technique similar to the one Ernest Rutherford performed in 1911. Rutherford’s goal was to disprove the current ideas about the nature of the atom and to show that positively charged nuclei and a-particles are part of an atom. In other words, he wanted to prove that atoms contain a nucleus, which contains protons, making the nucleus positive.
Ms. Rorie’s students were asked to use marbles to simulate Rutherford’s experiment by rolling marbles toward another marble and recording how many times the stationary marble was hit or missed. From the data collected, students then determined the probability of the marbles contacting each other by using the probability equation. The students then calculated the diameter of the marble and compared it to the actual diameter of the marble, a process necessary for the re-creation of Rutherford’s Gold Foil Experiment.