Lise Meitner

November 7th (or 17th) 1878 - October 27th 1968

Meitner, the daughter of a lawyer, was born in Vienna and entered the university there in 1901. She studied science under Ludwig Boltzmann and obtained her doctorate in 1906. From Vienna she went to Berlin to attend lectures by Max Planck on theoretical physics. Here she began to study the new phenomenon of radioactivity in collaboration with Otto Hahn, beginning a partnership that was to last thirty years.

At Berlin she met with remarkable difficulties caused by prejudice against women in academic life. She was forced to work in an old carpentry shop and forbidden, by Emil Fischer, to enter laboratories in which males were working. In 1914, at the outbreak of World War I, she became a nurse in the Austrian army, continuing work with Hahn during their periods of leave. In 1918 they announced the discovery of the radioactive element protactinium.

After the war Meitner returned to Berlin as head of the department of radiation physics at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Here she investigated the relationship between the gamma and beta rays emitted by radioactive material. In 1935 she began, with Hahn, work on the transformation of uranium nuclei under neutron bombardment. Confusing results had been obtained earlier by Enrico Fermi.

But by this time she was beginning to fear a different sort of prejudice. Following Hitler's annexation of Austria in 1938 she was no longer safe from persecution and, like many Jewish scientists, left Germany. With the help of Dutch colleagues she found refuge in Sweden, obtaining a post at the Nobel Institute in Stockholm. Hahn, with Fritz Strassman, continued the uranium work and published, in 1939, results showing that nuclei were present that were much lighter than uranium. Shortly afterward Lise Meitner, with Otto Frisch (her nephew), published an explanation interpreting these results as fission of the uranium nuclei. The nucleus of uranium absorbs a neutron, and the resulting unstable nucleus then breaks into two fragments of roughly equal size. In this induced fission, two or three neutrons are ejected. For this she received a share in the 1966 Enrico Fermi Prize of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Lise Meitner became a Swedish citizen in 1949 and continued work on nuclear physics. In 1960 she retired to Cambridge, England. In 1997 the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry approved the name meitnerium for element 109.

0 Response to "Lise Meitner"

Post a Comment