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Lise Meitner

physicist

Lise Meitner was an Austrian Born physicist, she is known for her work in nuclear physics and radioactivity. She was part of the leading duo the discovered the process of uranium’s nuclear fission (breakdown of an atom’s nucleus). Meitner teamed up with Otto Frisch, who studied the process of nuclear fission – they also knew that the process resulted in a release of a large amount energy.

Background

Lise Meitner was born to a Jewish family, although they were classified in the upper-middle class type of family. Lise was the third child in a line of eight, she was born in Vienna. Meitner’s father was one of the few Jewish Lawyers established in the country of Austria during that time.

Documentation, in the form of the Vienna’s Jewish community birth register, stated that Lise was born on the 17th of November 1878, although several other documents had suggested that she was born on the 7th of November.

As Lise Meitner grew up, she decided to change her faith to Christianity. Lise was also baptized in the early 1900’s

Education

Lise Meitner’s first evidence of education was when the Austrian was 8-years-old. Lise had a notebook where she noted down basic science and mathematics. It is believed that Lise hid the notebook under her pillow before she went to sleep. She began studying the different colors comprised of a thin film, oil slick, and some reflected light.

It was known that women as young as Lise were not allowed to study at public colleges or universities of higher education – this was during the 1900’s. Lise was still determined and begun to take private classes and educated herself in Physics. She was supported by her parents, and she eventually completed the course in the year 1901 – after writing an examination and passing.

Lise went on to continue her studies in Physics at a much higher level, and she eventually became one of the first female holders of a doctoral degree from the University of Vienna (Physics, of course, bring her major). She wrote a dissertation on about the conductive properties of an inhomogeneous body.

During her time in University, Meitner was dedicated and determined to complete her courses. However, she remained undecided on whether to study Physics or Mathematics. Meitner also went to various lectures in the different subjects and known to have been working harder than the students already enrolled in the courses.

Meitner was given a job offer after she had been awarded her doctorate – the job was in a lamp factory, which Lise rejected. Instead, her father funded her move to Germany where she attended Physics lessons from Max Planck – a man who was not known for allowing women to attend his lectures.

Career

Lise had attended a full year of lectures from Planck before becoming his assistant. She also worked alongside Otto Hahn, a chemist, with whom the pair had made the discovery of many different isotopes.

Lise also researched on beta-radiation and discovered a nuclear separation method, which they continued to develop. They called it the radioactive recoil, this meant that a daughter nucleus would be removed from its parent and a decay is formed as a result of the recoil.

The group transferred to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute during the year 1912. The newly formed building was in the South of Berlin. Meitner worked as a researcher, and would not be compensated for her work done. She was offered her first paying job in 1913 when she was 35-year-old after she was given the opportunity to move to Prague.

During the First World War, Lise was utilized as a nurse. She handled all the x-ray equipment, given her background in nuclear radiation. However, Lise returned to continue her work in Berlin while the war was still on – a decision that she felt hard to make.

In 1933, Adolf Hitler came to power – which was a major problem given that Meitner had Jewish heritage. She still kept her position as the acting head of the department of Physics, although she could call upon her Austrian citizenship for protection.

Her fellow scientists of Jewish decent had fled the country for fear of being executed. She instead opted to remain and continue her research. But, in 1938, after the Anschluss, the conditions became hard for Lise. She then fled to the Netherlands and had to keep a low profile during the move.

Lise successfully left the German city of Berlin, although she had to leave all her possessions behind – only 10 marks with her. But, just before Lise fled the country, Otto Hahn gave her a diamond ring – that had been passed down from his mom. Lise was told to use the ring as a form of bribe to get her across the border, although it was not necessary.

Lise had worked in Germany for most of her career in Physics, being forced out in 1938 because of Adolf Hitler.

Meitner began working for the theoretical Physicist Max Planck, at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute. She was initially working as a “guest” meaning that she would not be paid for her work and research, but she was offered a full-time job in 1913 after she received a job offer from another Institute.

During the First World War, Lise’s skills had enabled her to work as a nurse – handling all the x-ray equipment. Lise had to leave the job as a nurse in 1916 to continue her research.

Most of Meitner’s work was centered on the process of nuclear fission – this is the process of an atom splitting into two part of equal size in order to regain stability.

She was joined by Fritz Strassmann – Hahn’s assistant – in her research. The pair discovered the Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc2, was used to explain mass deficit between an atom and its individual constituents. This explained the massive amounts of energy that is released during the process of nuclear fission. The energy released in these reactions form the basis of today’s nuclear energy production and nuclear weaponry.

Lise, unfortunately, passed away in 1968 on the 27th of October, after she retired and moved to England. She was honored in 1992 when the heaviest element in the known universe was named after her. It was called Meitnerium (Mt). She is was also highly regarded as one of the most important female scientists in the 20th Century.

Achievements

  • Out of all the honors and awards that Meitner had been given, there was on in particular that was most remembered. Meitner had refused to share the Nobel Prize that was given to Otto Hahn for his work and research on nuclear fission. He was particularly rewarded for his discovery of the separation of the nucleus in a heavy metal.

    After Otto had won the prize, Lise voiced her opinions when she wrote a letter that read:

    “Surely Hahn fully deserved the Nobel Prize for chemistry. There is really no doubt about it. But I believe that Otto Robert Frisch and I contributed something not insignificant to the clarification of the process of uranium fission – how it originates and that it produces so much energy and that was something very remote to Hahn.”

Religion

Born into a Jewish upper-middle class family, Meitner was initially a follower of the Jewish faith. But, as she grew up, she converted into a Christian. Lise was baptized in the early 1900’s. When she converted to a Christian, Lise also became a follower of Lutheranism – a protestant branch of the Christian faith and adapts the philosophies of Martin Luther, a German theologian.

Politics

Lise, born in Austria to a Jewish family, was not known for her political stances. But, as she was of Jewish decent, Meitner had to escape Germany in the late 1930’s due to the rise of Adolf Hitler. She feared for her life and left the country without any of her possessions.

She later renounced her Austrian citizenship and opted to become a Swedish citizen.

Views

One can only imagine what kind of personality the Meitner had. She was a calm and collected woman and was an important figure in the scientific community. Meitner was not easily angered and would sort never let emotions get in the wat of her work.

Personality

She worked for almost 5 years during the reign of Adolf Hitler, even being demoted from several positions, but she was always dedicated to doing her research.

As a leading woman figure in the scientific world, Lise was interested in the nuclear world. Her dedication and determination had driven her to reach heights that women on dreamt of.

During her early years, while she was studying, she found it hard to attend a public University as the laws denied all women from attending a public institute. She instead opted to learn Physics from a private tutor. After learning all she could, she moved to Germany and began attending Max Planck’s lectures – a nice gesture from Planck as he is not known to allow women in his lectures.

Physical Characteristics : Lise was a relatively slim, and average sized person. Her height was like that of most people during that time. She preferred to keep her hair short as it would not interfere her during research projects. It is hard to tell her skin tone and hair color as physical descriptions were not well documented. It is believed that she had dark hair and had a pale skin tone.

  • ““Science makes people reach selflessly for truth and objectivity; it teaches people to accept reality, with wonder and admiration, not to mention the deep awe and joy that the natural order of things brings to the true scientist.””

Interests

  • Other Interests

    teaching

Connections

Lise was occupied with research and work for most of her life. She, therefore, was not interested in finding a husband to settle down with. Meitner was known to have one sibling – Walter Meitner, her brother. Her only other documented relatives were her parents – Philipp Meitner, her father, and Hedwig Skovran Meitner, her mother.

When Lise was young, her father encouraged her not to become a housewife and instead follow her dreams and aspirations – most probably why she never married and instead became one of the most decorated women during that era.

father:
Philipp Meitner

mother:
Hedwig Skovran Meitner

Doctoral advisor:
Franz S. Exner

Academic Advisor:
Ludwig Boltzmann

Doctoral student:
Arnold Flammersfeld