Lise Meitner: Nuclear Fission
There are few scientific geniuses that compare to Lise Meitner. Meitner was a student under the legendary physicist Max Plank, and Meitner was the first German woman to hold a professorship at a German University. In 1923, Meitner discovered the radiationless transition known as the Auger effect, which is named after Pierre Victor Auger, a French scientist who discovered the effect two years later. At the height of conflict and unease in Germany in the 1930s, the young Jewish scientist was forced to flee her home country. 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. Otto Hahn and Meitner met clandestinely in Copenhagen in November to plan a new round of experiments.
In 1938, Hahn and Meitner joined forces to outline the concept of nuclear fission. This was the groundbreaking moment that would, in just five years, give rise to the awesome destructive capacity of the atomic bomb. However, she did not receive the credit for it. 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. Meitner retired to Cambridge, England, in 1960, where she would pass on 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.”