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How physicists experiment

Rutherford's experiment set the tone for the realm of experimentation in particle physics; in fact, almost all particle physics experiments today use the same basic elements that Rutherford did:

  • A beam (in this case, the alpha particles)
  • A target (the gold atoms in the foil)
  • A detector (the zinc sulfide screen)

In addition, Rutherford established the practice of "seeing" into the sub-atomic realm by using particle beams, and particle physicists today follows his experimental lead by inferring the actual nature of particles and interactions from the frequently counterintuitive results they find.