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Death of a Physicist

August 3rd, 2015

Episode 489 of 607 episodes

Felled by a sniper's bullet in the Dardanelles on 10 August 1915, Henry Moseley had been the brightest hope in British physics. Not yet 30, his discoveries had already made such a global impact, that leading thinkers in both warring factions paused to pay their respects - not just in Britain and France but also in Germany. The American Nobel laureate Robert Millikan declared: “Had the European War had no other result than the snuffing out of this young life, that alone would make it one of the most hideous and irreparable crimes in history.” Physicist Charles Darwin (grandson of the biologist) claimed “Moseley was without exaggeration the most brilliant man I ever met.” Ernest Rutherford – discoverer of the atomic nucleus – used Moseley’s death (“a striking example misuse of scientific talent”) to change forever the military’s attitude to thoughtless conscription. In this special anniversary edition of Discovery, science journalist Roland Pease looks at the brief and luminous career of Henry Moseley, and how in an 18-month frenzy of activity, he revealed the structure of the atom, explained the basis of the chemists’ periodic table, and laid the foundations for chemistry overall. (Photo: Henry Moseley. Credit: Science Photo Library)

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