Lise Meitner

This week’s WiSE Wednesday features Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist best known for her work on radioactivity and nuclear physics. Women were not allowed to attend college in Vienna in 1900. However, she was given private education in physics, thanks to the support of her progressive and intellectual parents. After passing her baccalaureate with flying colors, she applied to the University of Vienna. She began her studies there at just 23 years old. She was only the second woman to have received a doctoral degree in physics. In 1907 Lise took her work to Berlin where she was able to sneak into male-only lectures by Max Planck - the father of quantum physics. Lise was also forced to work in the basement of the chemical lab (Kaiser Wilhelm Company for the Advancement of Science (KWG)), away from the men and without pay. She worked on artificial nuclear reactions and non-radiative transition. Meitner and Hahn discovered protactinium, a new radioactive element, in 1918. Her research was halted in 1933, when the Nazi movement forbade Jewish researchers access to Universities. Fortunately, she fled to Sweden where she was able to continue collaborating with Hahn. Years later, when Roosevelt launched the Manhattan project to build an atomic bomb using the work carried out by Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner, Meitner refused to participate on ethical grounds. In 1944, Otto Hahn received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work with Meitner, but Meitner was not recognized (what a shocker...). In 1945 she was awarded “Woman of the Year” by the US Women's Press Club but would continue to be overlooked by world organizations for her major contributions to nuclear physics.

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