The Rutherford Nitrogen-to-Oxygen Transmutation Myth


1. The World’s First Successful Alchemist (It Wasn’t Rutherford) (May 14, 2019)
This article describes Blackett's 1925 transmutation discovery and distinguishes it from Rutherford's proton discovery.

2. Rutherford’s Reluctant Role in Nuclear Transmutation (May 18, 2019)
This article describes Rutherford's 1919 proton discovery in detail.

3. The Nobel Foundation's Retraction of the Rutherford Transmutation Claim (May 19, 2019)
This article shows why some people still thought Rutherford deserved credit for the discovery.

4. Rutherford Promoter Retracts Nitrogen-to-Oxygen Transmutation Claim (June 4, 2019)

5. University of Manchester to Celebrate Wrong Transmutation Discovery (June 5, 2019)

6. Who Started the Ernest Rutherford Transmutation Myth 87 Years Ago? (June 6, 2019)

7. The Backstory to the University of Manchester’s “Transmutation” Meeting (July 7, 2019)

8. 100 Years of Physics History Overturned at University of Manchester (July 8, 2019)

9. Open Letter to Dr. Robin Marshall, Emeritus Professor, University of Manchester (July 9, 2019)

10. Book Review: Transmutation, The Inside Story (June 12, 2020)

11. Resolution of the Rutherford Transmutation Myth (July 14, 2020)

Correcting the Myth
In January 2017, after my book Lost History published, I began an outreach program to inform the scientific and academic communities in an effort to correct the recorded history. I selected five prominent organizations whose Web pages with the error ranked high in search results.

Sixteen months later, and after the exchange of several hundred e-mails, the first group had made almost all the corrections. This group included scholars at the American Institute of Physics, Cambridge University, Imperial College, the Nobel Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Energy. It is evident from my discussions with the chief historians at the AIP and DOE that they performed extremely comprehensive independent reviews of the history. The full list of original and corrected pages, as well as some of the acknowledgment letters, are shown below.

American Institute of Physics 6/23/2014   7/21/2017 8/18/2017
Atomic Heritage Society (Blackett Page) 7/14/2018   7/19/2018  
Atomic Heritage Society (Rutherford Page) 6/25/2018   7/3/2018  
Britannica.com (Alpha Page) 6/25/2018   8/24/2018  
Cambridge University 3/13/2017   9/12/2017 5/1/2017
CERN Courier 2009 6/25/2018

CERN Courier 2019 5/2/2019
Chemistry Views 6/25/2018   7/11/2018 6/1/2019
Imperial College London (See N.P. Winners) 3/26/2014   7/14/2017 7/31/2017
Institute of Physics Digital Education (original url)
7/10/2018 9/8/2018 9/28/2018 9/29/2018
LeMoyne College 10/16/2018
LibreText (Initiated at UC Davis) 6/19/2018   10/26/2018  
Nobel Foundation (Rutherford) 3/13/2017   3/24/2017  
Nobel Foundation (Blackett) 3/24/2017
Refused to make correction
Nucleonica 6/25/2018
Page deleted
Oxford University Press 3/13/2017   7/14/2018  
Physics World (1998) (Institute of Physics) 10/16/2018
Refused to make correction
Physics World (2011) (Institute of Physics) 10/16/2018
Refused to make correction
Physics World (2019) (Institute of Physics) 6/3/2019
see note
Royal Society of Chemistry 7/2/2018 8/31/2018 10/23/2018  
Royal Society 9/9/2018   9/11/2018 9/10/2018
Scientific American 10/14/2018
The Scientist 6/25/2018   10/15/2018  
University of California Santa Barbara 6/25/2018   7/19/2018  
University of Manchester 6/25/2018 7/10/2018

U.S. Department of Energy

6/23/2014 10/30/2017 2/11/2018 7/11/2018

Nearly two years later, on March 12, 2020, Eric Boyle, the historian for the U.S. Department of Energy contacted me and advised me that he intended to revert the discovery credit back to Rutherford.

Boyle wrote that he "was contacted by an award-winning physicist," and that he had consulted "with another physicist who is familiar with Rutherford, as well as two highly respected historians of science who have written about Rutherford’s work."

I advised Boyle against the recommendations he had received from the "experts." I encouraged him to examine the facts himself and make his own determination. After he did so, he decided not to revert the credit to Rutherford. Instead, he removed everything on that page about the transmutation discovery. The removal appeared to satisfy the experts. The action says a lot about their objectivity and integrity.

DoE's version crediting Rutherford on Archive.org
DoE's version crediting Blackett on Archive.org
DoE's version credting nobody for the discovery with all reference to the discovery removed.


Chemical equation for first confirmed artificial elemental transmutation, depicted on 7-cent New Zealand stamp and erroneously attributed to Rutherford.

1. Krivit, Steven B. (2016) Lost History: Explorations in Nuclear Research, Vol. 3, Pacific Oaks Press
2. Rutherford, Ernest (June 1919) “Collisions of Alpha Particles With Light Atoms: I. Hydrogen,” Philosophical Magazine, Series 6, 37, p. 537-61
3. Rutherford, Ernest (June 1919) “Collisions of Alpha Particles With Light Atoms: II. Velocity of the Hydrogen Atom,” Philosophical Magazine, Series 6, 37, p. 562-71
4. Rutherford, Ernest (June 1919) “Collisions of Alpha Particles With Light Atoms: III. Nitrogen and Oxygen Atoms,” Philosophical Magazine, Series 6, 37, p. 571-80
5. Rutherford, Ernest (June 1919) “Collisions of Alpha Particles With Light Atoms: IV. An Anomalous Effect in Nitrogen,” Philosophical Magazine, Series 6, 37, p. 581-87
6. Trenn, Thaddeus (March 1974) “The Justification of Transmutation: Speculations of Ramsay and Experiments of Rutherford,” Ambix, 21(1), p. 53-77
7. Blackett, Patrick Maynard Stewart (Feb. 2, 1925) “The Ejection of Protons From Nitrogen Nuclei, Photographed by the Wilson Method,” Journal of the Chemical Society Transactions. Series A, 107(742), p. 349-60


This Investigation by Steven B. Krivit Has Been Cited By:

Philip Yock, Department of Physics, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand: Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dec. 13, 2020

Joe Schwarcz, Director, McGill University Office for Science and Society: Montreal Gazette, April 2, 2022