To compare its sensitivity as a detector of electromagnetic waves against that of the standard detector of the time, the coherer, he mounted his detector in the receiving circuit of a Hertzian oscillator–receiver unit and found, as had others before him, that he could detect electromagnetic waves over a few metres even when there was a brick wall between the two circuits.
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This allowed him to return for a further (honours) year during which he took both mathematics and physics, and was influenced by Professor Alexander Bickerton.
The physics course required students to undertake an original investigation; Rutherford elected to extend an undergraduate experiment in order to determine if iron is magnetic at very high frequencies of magnetising current.
The commercial development of wireless telegraphy was thus left for Guglielmo Marconi.
Rutherford developed several ingenious techniques to study the mechanism whereby normally insulating gases become electrical conductors when a high voltage is applied across them.
Maclaurin could not agree to the new conditions of the scholarship, which was then awarded to Rutherford. Thomson of the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory; he was the first non-Cambridge graduate to become one of its research students.
Ernest Rutherford left New Zealand in 1895 as a highly skilled 23-year-old who held three degrees from the University of New Zealand and had a reputation as an outstanding researcher and innovator working at the forefront of electrical technology. Rutherford adapted his detector of very fast transient currents for use as a frequency meter, and used it to measure the dielectric properties of electrical insulators.
He submitted his work of 18 to the University of New Zealand in support of his application for the biennial 1851 scholarship.
There were two candidates and the university's examiners in England recommended that James Maclaurin of Auckland University College be nominated.
He invented two devices: a simple mechanism for switching two electrical circuits with a time interval between them which could be adjusted to be as short as one-hundred-thousandth of a second, and a detector of very fast current pulses.
By the end of 1893 he was an accomplished researcher (his first research was published in his second scientific paper in 1895).
In 1894 Rutherford returned to Canterbury College where he took geology and chemistry for a BSc degree, awarded in 1895.