The Woman Behind Fision: An Abridged Biography Of Lise Meitner

1139 words - 5 pages

Born in Vienna in 1878, Lise Meitner was one of eight children; her father was among the first group of Jewish men to practice law in Austria. As with Marie Curie (but rare for a woman at the turn of the century), the intellectual atmosphere that surrounded her as a child nurtured her scientific inclination. She had a "marked bent" for mathematics as well, and adopted Madame Curie and Florence Nightingale as her heroines. The shy, quiet, young woman convinced her father to let her study with a private tutor to prepare her for university study. She easily passed the entrance examination to the University of Vienna. With her usual passion, Lise attended every possible lecture--both in ...view middle of the document...

Because of her growing reputation, Lise was offered an assistant professorship at the Max Planck Institute. However, prejudice surfaced when the press mistitled her opening lecture on cosmic physics as "Problems in Cosmetic Physics." Unperturbed, Lise and Otto continued their efforts to understand radioactivity.Obviously, there were many barriers to women in academics at the turn of the century. Not even a doctorate seemed to help Lise Meitner. After she landed her position with Otto Hahn, she periodically suffered small incidents of rudeness, as when colleagues would acknowledge Herr Hahn in the corridors without even a nod for the young woman. Later, the editors of an encyclopedia contacted the knowledgeable Professor Meitner about an article on radioactivity. They were anxious for her article until they found out she was a woman. To Lise, these samples of chauvinism were annoyances, but did little to dampen her energy for expermentation.In an attempt to do her part in World War I, Lise signed up as an X-ray technician and was assigned to a field hospital. (On the other side of the hostilities, Madam Curie was doing similar work for her country.) In her mind, the war was an inconvenient, and sad, break in her experiments just as she and Hahn had hit on the idea of isotopes. After the war, they were able to announce their discovery of the 91st element, protactinium. Lise's reputation grew and she was appointed to an assistant professorship at the University of Berlin. Later she headed up the Radioactivity-Physics department at the Institute of Dahlem. Then Rutherford announced that he had managed to chip off particles from the nucleus of atoms. Chadwick followed with his discovery of neutrons, and Bohr was busy constructing models of the atoms. Nuclear physics was buzzing just as the Nazi's took power. However, being a Jew, Lise had to eventually leave Germany. Niels Bohr helped her escape and arranged an appointment for her at the physics institute in Stockholm. Also, while exile saved her life, it cost her the Nobel Prize and a prominent niche in many annals of physics.It was in Kungälf during 1938 that Lise hit upon her most well-known discovery. The seeds of the discovery were sown earlier by four ot...


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