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Canterbury academic author produces Rutherford documentary

Canterbury academic author produces first Rutherford documentary

June 5, 2014

Amazingly, until now, there has never been a full documentary on Nobel Prize winner and University of Canterbury physicist Ernest Rutherford.

University of Canterbury researcher Dr John Campbell has produced the Rutherford Documentary, which is based on his book, Rutherford Scientist Supreme. Research spanning a quarter of a century went into material for the book.

Dr Campbell has just screened on campus the first episode, The Apprentice, which covers Rutherford's early life and work in New Zealand and Canterbury College, plus his pioneering wireless telegraphy work in England.

Episode one also shows general student life and graduation ceremonies of Canterbury College from more than 120 years ago. Rutherford received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1908, 18 years after starting as a student at the University of Canterbury, formerly known as Canterbury College.

``Lord Rutherford is internationally New Zealand's most famous son, the first Nobel Prize recipient for research performed in Canada and probably the most illustrious British scientist of the first half of the 20th century,’’ Dr Campbell says.

The documentary was recorded in high definition digital video with three one-hour episodes. An eight minute trailer of the whole documentary can be seen at

The Canadian Nuclear Society recently awarded Dr Campbell an Education and Communication Award for the documentary. A DVD of the documentary has been gifted to every secondary school in New Zealand. It is now re-licenced for television and general DVD sales.

The documentary was directed by Gillian Ashurst, whose previous credits include the feature filmSnakeskin and the documentary Rocketman - The Story of Bill Pickering, the New Zealander and Canterbury alumni who led the USA's deep space exploration programme.

Dr Campbell has spent 36 years of his life studying Lord Rutherford. About 50 books have been written about him. His image is on the $100 New Zealand banknote and stamps in 10 countries. He is, still and always will be, mentioned in school science books the world over.

``We should be promoting him as an example of Kiwi youth who, through hard work and perseverance, rose to immortality. Gillian did a fantastic job in turning my book into a great documentary.

``It was filmed in three countries, includes interviews with people who worked with Rutherford, his relatives, and those whose work followed on from Rutherford's, plus re-enactments, animations of his famous experiments, never before seen moving images of him, extracts from his personal correspondence, and even a song written by Rutherford.’’

Dr Campbell taught physics at the University of Canterbury from 1968 until retiring in 2004. He now concentrates on Rutherford and his Ask-A-Scientist programme which has seen some 100,000 column centimetres of science in New Zealand newspapers since he initiated it 1993.


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