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Encouraged by Sir Robert Ball, who wished to solve the difficult problem that a ship could not detect a lighthouse in fog, and sensing fame and fortune, Rutherford increased the sensitivity of his apparatus until, in February of 1896, he could detect electromagnetic waves over a distance of several hundred metres, a then world record. Thomson invited him to join in a study of the electrical conduction of gases.Wireless telegraphy was thus left for Guglielmo Marconi to develop and commercialize.The cannon exploded, luckily without causing injury.Ernest was lucky to avoid the drowning fate of two of his brothers and lucky to be taught by a country school-teacher of above average ability.The Royal Commissioners for the Exhibition of 1851 had just initiated scholarships to allow graduates of universities in the where he took geology and chemistry for a BSc degree.

In 1893 Ern obtained a Master of Arts degree with double First Class Honours, in Mathematics and Mathematical Physics and in Physical Science (Electricity and Magnetism).

He showed that a steel needle surrounded by a wire loop in the discharge circuit was indeed magnetised for frequencies as high as 500 million per second.

By slowly dissolving the needle in acid he showed that only a very thin surface layer of the needle was magnetised. (His brother later became the President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.) Maclaurin could not accept the terms of the scholarship so the University therefore nominated Ern, the only other candidate, who was duly awarded it.

In 1887 Ernest, on his second attempt, won a Scholarship to .

In 1889 he was head boy (the Dux of the school, hence his nick-name `quacks'), played in the rugby team and, once again on his second attempt, won one of the ten scholarships available nationally to assist attendance at a college of the University of New Zealand. There he played rugby and participated in the activities of the Dialectic Society (a student debating society), the graduation day celebrations (for which he co-wrote one song) and the recently formed Science Society.