Otto Hahn (1879 - 1968)

Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn

Otto Hahn was born in Frankfurt am Main on March 8, 1879. He studied chemistry at Marburg and Munich and received his Ph.D. from the former in 1901, submitting a thesis on organic chemistry. Hahn worked initially at the Chemical Institute at Marburg, then moved to University College in London in 1904, on to the Physical Institute of McGill University in Montreal in 1905, and then to the Chemical Institute of the University of Berlin in 1906. In the spring of 1907, he qualified as a university lecturer and also discovered mesothorium.

At the end of 1907, Lise Meitner came to Berlin from Vienna, and the two began more than 30 years' collaboration. Their joint work embraced investigations on beta-rays and the use of the radioactive recoil to obtain new radioactive transformation products.

Between 1914 and 1918, Hahn served in World War I, but he resumed his research with Professor Meitner in 1918, and discovered protactinium, the long-lived mother substance of the actinium series. Hahn further discovered uranium Z, the first case of a nuclear isomerism of radioactive kinds of atoms. He also collaborated with Meitner and Fritz Strassmann on the processes if irradiating uranium and thorium with neutrons.

Hahn and Meitner also worked together on the discovery of an artificially active uranium isotope, which represents the basic substance of the elements neptunium and plutonium, first revealed later in America. But his most spectacular discovery came at the end of 1938 when, while working jointly with Strassmann, Hahn discovered the fission of uranium. This discovery earned Hahn the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944, and led directly to the development of the atomic bomb.

In 1912, Hahn became scientific member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry and was Director of the Institute until it was taken into Allied custody following World War II. He, along with other key members of Germany's atomic bomb project were captured by the Allies and interned at Farm Hall, England.

In 1913, Hahn married Edith Junghans and they had one son, Hanno, born in 1922, who was killed accidentally in 1960. Hahn died on July 28, 1968; one of the world's few nuclear-powered merchant ships, Otto Hahn, was named in his honor.