He was educated at Mundell"s School and Edinburgh University (Doctor of Medicine 1772).
Rutherford was the uncle of the novelist Sir Walter Scott. He left home at the age of 16 to go to college. Rutherford discovered nitrogen by the isolation of the particle in 1772.
When Joseph Black was studying the properties of carbon dioxide, he found that a candle would not burn in lieutenant
Black turned this problem over to his student at the time, Rutherford. Rutherford kept a mouse in a space with a confined quantity of air until it died.
Then, he burned a candle in the remaining air until it went out. Afterwards, he burned phosphorus in that, until it would not burn.
Then the air was passed through a carbon dioxide absorbing solution.
The remaining component of the air did not support combustion, and a mouse could not live in lieutenant Rutherford called the gas (which we now know would have consisted primarily of nitrogen) “noxious air” or “phlogisticated air”. Rutherford reported the experiment in 1772.
He and Black were convinced of the validity of the phlogiston theory, so they explained their results in terms of lieutenant
He was a professor of botany at the University of Edinburgh and keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. He was President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh from 1796 to 1798.
His pupils included Thomas Brown of Lanfine and Waterhaughs.