Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner

Overview
Lise Meitner FRS  was an Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n-born, later Swedish
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, physicist
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

. Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

 was awarded the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women's scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee. A 1997 Physics Today study concluded that Meitner's omission was "a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist" from the Nobel.
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Lise Meitner FRS  was an Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

n-born, later Swedish
Sweden
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

, physicist
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics
Nuclear physics
Nuclear physics is the field of physics that studies the building blocks and interactions of atomic nuclei. The most commonly known applications of nuclear physics are nuclear power generation and nuclear weapons technology, but the research has provided application in many fields, including those...

. Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

 was awarded the Nobel Prize
Nobel Prize
The Nobel Prizes are annual international awards bestowed by Scandinavian committees in recognition of cultural and scientific advances. The will of the Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, established the prizes in 1895...

. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women's scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee. A 1997 Physics Today study concluded that Meitner's omission was "a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist" from the Nobel. Element 109, Meitnerium
Meitnerium
Meitnerium is a chemical element with the symbol Mt and atomic number 109. It is placed as the heaviest member of group 9 in the periodic table but a sufficiently stable isotope is not known at this time which would allow chemical experiments to confirm its position, unlike its lighter...

, is named in her honor.

Early years


Meitner was born into a Jewish family as the third of eight children in Vienna
Vienna
Vienna is the capital and largest city of the Republic of Austria and one of the nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primary city, with a population of about 1.723 million , and is by far the largest city in Austria, as well as its cultural, economic, and political centre...

, 2nd district (Leopoldstadt). Her father, Philipp Meitner
Philipp Meitner
Philipp Meitner was an Austrian lawyer and chess master. His most famous game was the "Immortal Draw" . He won at Vienna 1875, and won a match against Adolf Schwarz at Vienna 1878.Meitner played in two strong international tournaments in the Vienna 1873 and Vienna 1882...

, was one of the first Jewish lawyers in Austria. She was born on 7 November 1878. She shortened her name from Elise to Lise. The birth register of Vienna's Jewish community lists Meitner as being born on 17 November 1878, but all other documents list it as 7 November, which is what she used. As an adult, she converted to Christianity, following Protestantism
Protestantism
Protestantism is one of the three major groupings within Christianity. It is a movement that began in Germany in the early 16th century as a reaction against medieval Roman Catholic doctrines and practices, especially in regards to salvation, justification, and ecclesiology.The doctrines of the...

, and being baptized in 1908.

Scientific career


Inspired by her teacher, physicist Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Boltzmann
Ludwig Eduard Boltzmann was an Austrian physicist famous for his founding contributions in the fields of statistical mechanics and statistical thermodynamics...

, Meitner studied physics and became the second woman to obtain a doctoral degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated as Ph.D., PhD, D.Phil., or DPhil , in English-speaking countries, is a postgraduate academic degree awarded by universities...

 in physics at the University of Vienna
University of Vienna
The University of Vienna is a public university located in Vienna, Austria. It was founded by Duke Rudolph IV in 1365 and is the oldest university in the German-speaking world...

 in 1905 ("Wärmeleitung im inhomogenen Körper"). Women were not allowed to attend institutions of higher education in those days, but thanks to support from her parents, she was able to obtain private higher education, which she completed in 1901 with an "externe Matura" examination at the Akademisches Gymnasium. Following the doctoral degree, she rejected an offer to work in a gas lamp factory. Encouraged by her father and backed by his financial support, she went to Berlin. Max Planck
Max Planck
Max Karl Ernst Ludwig Planck, ForMemRS, was a German physicist who actualized the quantum physics, initiating a revolution in natural science and philosophy. He is regarded as the founder of the quantum theory, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1918.-Life and career:Planck came...

 allowed her to attend his lectures, an unusual gesture by Planck, who until then had rejected any women wanting to attend his lectures. After one year, Meitner became Planck's assistant. During the first years she worked together with chemist Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn
Otto Hahn FRS was a German chemist and Nobel laureate, a pioneer in the fields of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He is regarded as "the father of nuclear chemistry". Hahn was a courageous opposer of Jewish persecution by the Nazis and after World War II he became a passionate campaigner...

 and discovered with him several new isotopes. In 1909 she presented two papers on beta-radiation
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

.

In 1912 the research group Hahn-Meitner moved to the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut (KWI) in Berlin-Dahlem, south west in Berlin. She worked without salary as a "guest" in Hahn's department of Radiochemistry. It was not until 1913, at 35 years old and following an offer to go to Prague as associate professor, that she got a permanent position at KWI.

In the first part of the First World War (World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

), she served as a nurse handling X-ray equipment. She returned to Berlin and her research in 1916, but not without inner struggle. She felt in a way ashamed of wanting to continue her research efforts when thinking about the pain and suffering of the victims of war and their medical and emotional needs.

In 1917, she and Hahn discovered the first long-lived isotope
Isotope
Isotopes are variants of atoms of a particular chemical element, which have differing numbers of neutrons. Atoms of a particular element by definition must contain the same number of protons but may have a distinct number of neutrons which differs from atom to atom, without changing the designation...

 of the element protactinium
Protactinium
Protactinium is a chemical element with the symbol Pa and atomic number 91. It is a dense, silvery-gray metal which readily reacts with oxygen, water vapor and inorganic acids. It forms various chemical compounds where protactinium is usually present in the oxidation state +5, but can also assume...

, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences
Prussian Academy of Sciences
The Prussian Academy of Sciences was an academy established in Berlin on 11 July 1700, four years after the Akademie der Künste or "Arts Academy", to which "Berlin Academy" may also refer.-Origins:...

. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry.

In 1922, she discovered the cause, known as the Auger effect, of the emission from surfaces of electrons with 'signature' energies. The effect is named for Pierre Victor Auger
Pierre Victor Auger
Pierre Victor Auger was a French physicist, born in Paris. He worked in the fields of atomic physics, nuclear physics, and cosmic ray physics....

, a French scientist who independently discovered the effect in 1923.

In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. There she undertook the research program in nuclear physics which eventually led to her co-discovery of nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 in 1939, after she had left Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

 as the "German Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

".

In 1930, Meitner taught a seminar on nuclear physics and chemistry with Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

. With the discovery of the neutron
Neutron
The neutron is a subatomic hadron particle which has the symbol or , no net electric charge and a mass slightly larger than that of a proton. With the exception of hydrogen, nuclei of atoms consist of protons and neutrons, which are therefore collectively referred to as nucleons. The number of...

 in the early 1930s, speculation arose in the scientific community that it might be possible to create elements heavier than uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 (atomic number 92) in the laboratory. A scientific race began between Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford
Ernest Rutherford, 1st Baron Rutherford of Nelson OM, FRS was a New Zealand-born British chemist and physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics...

 in Britain, Irène Joliot-Curie
Irène Joliot-Curie
Irène Joliot-Curie was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies...

 in France, Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi was an Italian-born, naturalized American physicist particularly known for his work on the development of the first nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, and for his contributions to the development of quantum theory, nuclear and particle physics, and statistical mechanics...

 in Italy, and the Meitner-Hahn team in Berlin. At the time, all concerned believed that this was abstract research for the probable honour of a Nobel prize. None suspected that this research would culminate in nuclear weapons.

When Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler
Adolf Hitler was an Austrian-born German politician and the leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party , commonly referred to as the Nazi Party). He was Chancellor of Germany from 1933 to 1945, and head of state from 1934 to 1945...

 came to power in 1933, Meitner was acting director of the Institute for Chemistry. Although she was protected by her Austrian citizenship, all other Jewish scientists, including her nephew Otto Frisch, Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber
Fritz Haber was a German chemist, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his development for synthesizing ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives. Haber, along with Max Born, proposed the Born–Haber cycle as a method for evaluating the lattice energy of an ionic solid...

, Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd
Leó Szilárd was an Austro-Hungarian physicist and inventor who conceived the nuclear chain reaction in 1933, patented the idea of a nuclear reactor with Enrico Fermi, and in late 1939 wrote the letter for Albert Einstein's signature that resulted in the Manhattan Project that built the atomic bomb...

 and many other eminent figures, were dismissed or forced to resign from their posts. Most of them emigrated from Germany. Her response was to say nothing and bury herself in her work; she later acknowledged, in 1946, that "It was not only stupid but also very wrong that I did not leave at once."

After the Anschluss
Anschluss
The Anschluss , also known as the ', was the occupation and annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938....

, her situation became desperate. In July 1938, Meitner, with help from the Dutch
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 physicists Dirk Coster
Dirk Coster
Dirk Coster , was a Dutch physicist. He was a Professor of Physics and Meteorology at the University of Groningen....

 and Adriaan Fokker
Adriaan Fokker
Adriaan Daniël Fokker , was a Dutch physicist and musician.Fokker was born in Buitenzorg, Dutch East Indies ; he was a cousin of the aeronautical engineer Anthony Fokker...

, escaped to the Netherlands. She was forced to travel under cover to the Dutch border, where Coster persuaded German immigration officers that she had permission to travel to the Netherlands. She reached safety, though without her possessions. Meitner later said that she left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse. Before she left, Otto Hahn had given her a diamond
Diamond
In mineralogy, diamond is an allotrope of carbon, where the carbon atoms are arranged in a variation of the face-centered cubic crystal structure called a diamond lattice. Diamond is less stable than graphite, but the conversion rate from diamond to graphite is negligible at ambient conditions...

 ring he had inherited from his mother: this was to be used to bribe the frontier guards if required. It was not required, and Meitner's nephew's wife later wore it.

Meitner was lucky to escape, as Kurt Hess, a chemist who was an avid Nazi, had informed the authorities that she was about to flee. However, unknown friends only checked after they knew she was safe. An appointment at the University of Groningen did not come through, and she went instead to Stockholm
Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

, where she took up a post at Manne Siegbahn
Manne Siegbahn
Karl Manne Georg Siegbahn FRS was a Swedish physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1924 "for his discoveries and research in the field of X-ray spectroscopy"....

's laboratory, despite the difficulty caused by Siegbahn's prejudice against women in science. Here she established a working relationship with Niels Bohr
Niels Bohr
Niels Henrik David Bohr was a Danish physicist who made foundational contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1922. Bohr mentored and collaborated with many of the top physicists of the century at his institute in...

, who travelled regularly between Copenhagen
Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

 and Stockholm. She continued to correspond with Hahn and other German scientists.

Nuclear fission


Hahn and Meitner met clandestinely in Copenhagen
Copenhagen
Copenhagen is the capital and largest city of Denmark, with an urban population of 1,199,224 and a metropolitan population of 1,930,260 . With the completion of the transnational Øresund Bridge in 2000, Copenhagen has become the centre of the increasingly integrating Øresund Region...

 in November to plan a new round of experiments, and they subsequently exchanged a series of letters. Hahn and Fritz Strassmann
Fritz Strassmann
Friedrich Wilhelm "Fritz" Strassmann was a German chemist who, with Otto Hahn in 1938, identified barium in the residue after bombarding uranium with neutrons, which led to the interpretation of their results as being from nuclear fission...

 then performed the difficult experiments which isolated the evidence for nuclear fission at his laboratory in Berlin. The surviving correspondence shows that Hahn recognized that fission was the only explanation for the barium, but, baffled by this remarkable conclusion, he wrote to Meitner. The possibility that uranium nuclei might break up under neutron bombardment had been suggested years before, notably by Ida Noddack
Ida Noddack
Ida Noddack , née Ida Tacke, was a German chemist and physicist. She was the first to mention the idea of nuclear fission in 1934. With her husband Walter Noddack she discovered element 75 rhenium...

 in 1934. However, by employing the existing "liquid-drop" model of the nucleus, Meitner and Frisch were the first to articulate a theory of how the nucleus of an atom could be split into smaller parts: uranium nuclei had split to form barium
Barium
Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in Group 2, a soft silvery metallic alkaline earth metal. Barium is never found in nature in its pure form due to its reactivity with air. Its oxide is historically known as baryta but it reacts with...

 and krypton
Krypton
Krypton is a chemical element with the symbol Kr and atomic number 36. It is a member of Group 18 and Period 4 elements. A colorless, odorless, tasteless noble gas, krypton occurs in trace amounts in the atmosphere, is isolated by fractionally distilling liquified air, and is often used with other...

, accompanied by the ejection of several neutrons and a large amount of energy (the latter two products accounting for the loss in mass). She and Frisch had discovered the reason that no stable elements beyond uranium (in atomic number) existed naturally; the electrical repulsion of so many protons overcame the strong nuclear force
Strong interaction
In particle physics, the strong interaction is one of the four fundamental interactions of nature, the others being electromagnetism, the weak interaction and gravitation. As with the other fundamental interactions, it is a non-contact force...

. Meitner also first realized that Einstein's famous equation, E = mc2, explained the source of the tremendous releases of energy in nuclear fission, by the conversion of rest mass into kinetic energy
Kinetic energy
The kinetic energy of an object is the energy which it possesses due to its motion.It is defined as the work needed to accelerate a body of a given mass from rest to its stated velocity. Having gained this energy during its acceleration, the body maintains this kinetic energy unless its speed changes...

, popularly described as the conversion of mass into energy.

A letter from Bohr, commenting on the fact that the amount of energy released when he bombarded uranium atoms was far larger than had been predicted by calculations based on a non-fissile core, had sparked the above inspiration in December 1938. Hahn claimed that his chemistry had been solely responsible for the discovery, although he had been unable to explain the results.

It was politically impossible for the exiled Meitner to publish jointly with Hahn in 1939. Hahn and Strassman had sent the manuscript of their paper to Naturwissenschaften
Die Naturwissenschaften
Naturwissenschaften is a monthly peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Springer on behalf of several learned societies.- History :...

in December 1938, reporting they had detected the element barium
Barium
Barium is a chemical element with the symbol Ba and atomic number 56. It is the fifth element in Group 2, a soft silvery metallic alkaline earth metal. Barium is never found in nature in its pure form due to its reactivity with air. Its oxide is historically known as baryta but it reacts with...

 after bombarding uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 with neutrons; simultaneously, they had communicated their results to Meitner in a letter. Meitner, and her nephew Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch , Austrian-British physicist. With his collaborator Rudolf Peierls he designed the first theoretical mechanism for the detonation of an atomic bomb in 1940.- Overview :...

, correctly interpreted their results as being nuclear fission
Nuclear fission
In nuclear physics and nuclear chemistry, nuclear fission is a nuclear reaction in which the nucleus of an atom splits into smaller parts , often producing free neutrons and photons , and releasing a tremendous amount of energy...

 and published their paper in Nature
Nature (journal)
Nature, first published on 4 November 1869, is ranked the world's most cited interdisciplinary scientific journal by the Science Edition of the 2010 Journal Citation Reports...

. Frisch confirmed this experimentally on 13 January 1939.

Meitner recognized the possibility for a chain reaction
Nuclear chain reaction
A nuclear chain reaction occurs when one nuclear reaction causes an average of one or more nuclear reactions, thus leading to a self-propagating number of these reactions. The specific nuclear reaction may be the fission of heavy isotopes or the fusion of light isotopes...

 of enormous explosive potential. This report had an electrifying effect on the scientific community. Because this could be used as a weapon, and since the knowledge was in German hands, Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller
Edward Teller
Edward Teller was a Hungarian-American theoretical physicist, known colloquially as "the father of the hydrogen bomb," even though he did not care for the title. Teller made numerous contributions to nuclear and molecular physics, spectroscopy , and surface physics...

, and Eugene Wigner jumped into action, persuading Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of general relativity, effecting a revolution in physics. For this achievement, Einstein is often regarded as the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects in human history...

, a celebrity, to write President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 a letter of caution; this led eventually to the establishment several years later of the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

. Meitner refused an offer to work on the project at Los Alamos
Los Alamos, New Mexico
Los Alamos is a townsite and census-designated place in Los Alamos County, New Mexico, United States, built upon four mesas of the Pajarito Plateau and the adjoining White Rock Canyon. The population of the CDP was 12,019 at the 2010 Census. The townsite or "the hill" is one part of town while...

, declaring "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!" Meitner said that Hiroshima
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 had come as a surprise to her, and that she was "sorry that the bomb had to be invented."

In Sweden, Meitner was first active at Siegbahn's Nobel Institute for Physics, and at the Swedish Defence Research Establishment (FOA) and the Royal Institute of Technology
Royal Institute of Technology
The Royal Institute of Technology is a university in Stockholm, Sweden. KTH was founded in 1827 as Sweden's first polytechnic and is one of Scandinavia's largest institutions of higher education in technology. KTH accounts for one-third of Sweden’s technical research and engineering education...

 in Stockholm, where she had a laboratory and participated in research on R1
R1 (nuclear reactor)
R1 was the first nuclear reactor of Sweden. It was a research reactor located at the Royal Institute of Technology campus at Valhallavägen in central Stockholm, in the rock beneath the current-day Q-Houses. The reactor was active from July 13, 1954 to June 6, 1970...

, Sweden's first nuclear reactor. In 1947, a personal position was created for Meitner at the University College of Stockholm with the salary of a professor and funding from the Council for Atomic Research.

Einstein himself respected Meitner and called her "our Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

."

Awards and honours


On 15 November 1945 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences or Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden. The Academy is an independent, non-governmental scientific organization which acts to promote the sciences, primarily the natural sciences and mathematics.The Academy was founded on 2...

 announced that Hahn had been awarded the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission. Some historians who have documented the history of the discovery of nuclear fission believe Meitner should have been awarded the Nobel Prize with Hahn.

In 1966 Hahn, Fritz Strassmann
Fritz Strassmann
Friedrich Wilhelm "Fritz" Strassmann was a German chemist who, with Otto Hahn in 1938, identified barium in the residue after bombarding uranium with neutrons, which led to the interpretation of their results as being from nuclear fission...

 and Meitner together were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award
Enrico Fermi Award
The Enrico Fermi Award is an award honoring scientists of international stature for their lifetime achievement in the development, use, or production of energy. It is administered by the U.S. government's Department of Energy...

. On a visit to the USA in 1946 she received the honor of the "Woman of the Year" by the National Press Club dinner with President Harry Truman and others at the National Women's Press Club (USA) in January 1946, as well as many honorary doctorates and lectured at Princeton, Harvard and other US universities. Lise Meitner refused to move back to Germany, and enjoyed retirement and research in Stockholm until her late 80s. She received the Max Planck Medal
Max Planck medal
The Max Planck medal is an award for extraordinary achievements in theoretical physics. It is awarded annually by the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft , the world's largest organization of physicists.-List of recipients:...

 of the German Physics Society in 1949. Meitner was nominated to receive the prize three times. An even rarer honour was given to her in 1997 when element 109 was named meitnerium
Meitnerium
Meitnerium is a chemical element with the symbol Mt and atomic number 109. It is placed as the heaviest member of group 9 in the periodic table but a sufficiently stable isotope is not known at this time which would allow chemical experiments to confirm its position, unlike its lighter...

 in her honour.

Meitner was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences or Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien is one of the Royal Academies of Sweden. The Academy is an independent, non-governmental scientific organization which acts to promote the sciences, primarily the natural sciences and mathematics.The Academy was founded on 2...

 in 1945, and had her status changed to that of a Swedish member in 1951.

Later years


After the war, Meitner, while acknowledging her own moral failing in staying in Germany from 1933 to 1938, was bitterly critical of Hahn and other German scientists who had collaborated with the Nazis and done nothing to protest against the crimes of Hitler's regime. Referring to the leading German scientist Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

, she said: "Heisenberg and many millions with him should be forced to see these camps and the martyred people." She wrote to Hahn:

Hahn however wrote in his memoirs that he and Meitner had been lifelong friends.

Meitner became a Swedish citizen in 1949. She finally decided to retire in 1960 and then moved to the UK where most of her relatives were, although she continued working part time and giving lectures. A strenuous trip to the United States in 1964 led to Meitner having a heart attack, which she spent several months recovering from. Her physical and mental condition weakened by atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis
Atherosclerosis is a condition in which an artery wall thickens as a result of the accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterol...

, she was unable to travel to the US to receive the Enrico Fermi prize and relatives had to present it to her. After breaking her hip in a fall and suffering several small strokes in 1967, Meitner made a partial recovery, but eventually was weakened to the point where she moved into a Cambridge nursing home. She died on October 27 at the age of 89. Meitner was not informed of the deaths of Otto Hahn and his wife Edith, as her family believed it would be too much for someone as frail as her to handle. As was her wish, she was buried in the village of Bramley
Bramley, Hampshire
Bramley is a village and parish in Hampshire, UK. In the 2001 census it had a population of 3,348. It has a village shop, bakery, estate agency, pub and a railway station...

 in Hampshire
Hampshire
Hampshire is a county on the southern coast of England in the United Kingdom. The county town of Hampshire is Winchester, a historic cathedral city that was once the capital of England. Hampshire is notable for housing the original birthplaces of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force...

, at St. James parish church, close to her younger brother Walter, who had died in 1964. Her nephew Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch
Otto Robert Frisch , Austrian-British physicist. With his collaborator Rudolf Peierls he designed the first theoretical mechanism for the detonation of an atomic bomb in 1940.- Overview :...

 composed the inscription on her headstone. It reads "Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity."

See also

  • List of Austrian scientists
  • Hans-Hermann Hupfeld
    Hans-Hermann Hupfeld
    Gustav Theodor Hans Hermann Hupfeld was a German physicist known for his work on the scattering of gamma rays.-Early career:...

  • List of German inventors and discoverers

External links