Lise Meitner (1878-1968)

Lise Meitner (1878-1968)

Lise MeitnerLise Meitner

Atomic physicist

Born in Vienna and conducting her experiments in Berlin and Sweden, atomic physicist Lise's greatest achievement was the discovery and the theoretical explanation of nuclear fission. She contributed to the understanding of the structure of the nucleus, and the calculation of the energy released in radioactive decomposition. This lay the foundation for the development of nuclear-fission technology, which in a couple of years led to the development of the atomic bomb and the peaceful use of atomic energy. As Lise was a pacifist, she refused to work on a nuclear weapon.

Nuclear fission chain reactionNuclear fission chain reaction

Working with Otto Hahn, who was awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery of atomic fission, Lise discovered several radioactive isotopes, including protactinium, which was part of the decay chain of uranium. In close collaboration with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, in 1938 she discovered that when a uranium nucleus was struck by neutrons barium was produced; and for the first time in history, she produced nuclear fission in laboratory. Although she was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times, she was never awarded. A rare honour was given to her in 1997 when element 109 was named meitnerium in recognition of her work and achievements.


Meitnerium: the element 109 was named in recognition of the scientist's workMeitnerium: the element 109 was named in recognition of the scientist's work

Lise Maitner dedicated her entire life to science; she never got married, and was never whispered to have been romantically involved with anyone. This is how she comments her own life:

"I love physics with all my heart. I can hardly imagine it not being part of my life. It is a kind of personal love, as one has for a person to whom one is grateful for many things. And I, who tends to suffer from a guilty conscience, am a physicist without the slightest guilty conscience."