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at the Royal Institution in London when he realised that Kelvin
was present. This apocryphal story is told in his own words:
I came into the room, which was half dark, and presently spotted Lord
Kelvin in the audience and realised that I was in for trouble at the last
part of my speech dealing with the age of the Earth, where my views
conflicted with his. To my relief, Kelvin fell fast asleep, but as I came to
the important point, I saw the old bird sit up, open an eye and cock a
baleful glance at me! Then a sudden inspiration came, and I said, 'Lord
Kelvin had limited the age of the Earth, provided no new source [of heat]
was discovered. That prophetic utterance refers to what we are now con-
sidering tonight, radium!' Behold! the old boy beamed upon me.
But despite 'beaming' upon Rutherford, Kelvin was reluctant
to relinquish his old ideas. He belonged to a school which be-
lieved that the energy expelled by radium was received from
some ex-ternal source and could therefore not be the cause of
the Earth's internal heat. Although Rutherford's biographer
A.S. Eve reports that 'With considerable courage, he [Kelvin]
abandoned his theory publicly at the 1904 British Association
Meeting', as we saw from the 1906 ' Times debate' that so inspired
Arthur and Bob, it appears that Kelvin never fully renounced his
Towards the end of his life Kelvin confided to a friend that
he regarded his work on the age of the Earth as his most impor-
tant contribution to science. I suspect he tremendously enjoyed
all the controversy he caused, and while he may not have been
right, he certainly made the geologists sit up and think about
what they were doing, by making them question whether there
really was 'no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end'. By
proposing controversial hypotheses, Kelvin paved the way for a
true numerical quantification of the age of the Earth.
While Rutherford worked in Montreal, somewhat in isolation
from the rest of the world, some duplication of his work
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