Lise Meitner (1878 - 1968)

Lise Meitner was born on November 7, 1878, in Vienna, Austria. The third of eight children of a Jewish family, she entered the University of Vienna in 1901, studying physics under Ludwig Boltzmann. After she obtained her doctorate degree in 1906, she went to Berlin in 1907 to study with Max Planck and the chemist Otto Hahn. She worked together with Hahn for 30 years, each of them leading a section in Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. Hahn and Meitner collaborated closely, studying radioactivity, with her knowledge of physics and his knowledge of chemistry. In 1918, they discovered the element protactinium.

In 1923, Meitner discovered the radiationless transition known as the Auger effect, which is named for Pierre Victor Auger, a French scientist who discovered the effect two years later.

After Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, Meitner was forced to flee Germany for Sweden. She continued her work at Manne Siegbahn's institute in Stockholm, but with little support, partially due to Siegbahn's prejudice against women in science. Hahn and Meitner met clandestinely in Copenhagen in November to plan a new round of experiments. The experiments that provided the evidence for nuclear fission were done at Hahn's laboratory in Berlin and published in January 1939. In February 1939, Meitner published the physical explanation for the observations and, with her nephew, physicist Otto Frisch, named the process nuclear fission. The discovery led other scientists to prompt Albert Einstein to write President Franklin D. Roosevelt a warning letter, which led to the Manhattan Project.

In 1944, Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his research into fission, but Meitner was ignored, partly because Hahn downplayed her role ever since she left Germany. The Nobel mistake, never acknowledged, was partly rectified in 1966, when Hahn, Meitner, and Strassman were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. On a visit to the U.S. in 1946, she was given total American press celebrity treatment, as someone who had "left Germany with the bomb in my purse."

Meitner retired to Cambridge, England, in 1960, where she died October 27. In 1992, element 109, the heaviest known element in the universe, was named Meitnerium (Mt) in her honor. Many consider Lise Meitner the "most significant woman scientist of the 20th Century."

Lise Meitner was born on November 7, 1878 in Vienna, Austria. Upon receiving a doctorate in physics from the University of Vienna in 1906, Meitner went to the University of Berlin. There, she began to work with a chemist, Otto Hahn, she doing the physics and he the chemistry of radioactive substances. The collaboration continued for 30 years, each heading a section in Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry.

In 1938 she was forced to leave Germany and went to Sweden. In her absence, Hahn and Fritz Strassmann continued experiments they had begun earlier with Meitner. Hahn wrote to Meitner, describing the results and while visiting her nephew Otto Frisch in Denmark, they proved that a splitting of the uranium atom was energetically feasible. This process was described in a landmark 1939 letter to the journal Nature with a term borrowed from biology: fission. Immediately, these results were confirmed around the world. In 1944, Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics for his research into fission, but Meitner was ignored. The Nobel mistake, never acknowledged, was partly rectified in 1966, when Hahn, Meitner, and Strassmann were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award.

She retired to Cambridge, England where she died October 27, 1968. In 1997, it was announced that element 109 would be given the official name meitnerium (Mt) in her honor.

Company Logo About Us | | Support | Privacy | Site Map | Weblog | Support Our Site

© Copyright 1998-2013 AJ Software & Multimedia All Rights Reserved

National Science FoundationNational Science Digital LibraryNuclear Pathways Member SiteThis project is part of the National Science Digital Library and was funded by the Division of Undergraduate Education, National Science Foundation Grant 0434253