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Lise Meitner

Page history last edited by Evan Trotter 10 years, 1 month ago


Lise Meitner

          By: Evan Trotter


     Lise Meitner (b. November, 1878- d. October 27, 1968) was a physicist who specialized in nuclear physics. She was one of the most influential scientists in the last 100 years. Her studies led to many great advances in nuclear physics and quantum mechanics.  



File:Lise Meitner (1878-1968), lecturing at Catholic University, Washington, D.C., 1946.jpg          There is some confusion of when she was exactly born, but it was sometime November, 1878 in Vienna. She was born into a Jewish, middle class family, and she was one of 8 children. However, her family was more of a culturally Jewish family, rather than a practiced one. Like many other great scientists, she excelled in the subjects of math and science at a very young age. Despite her childhood brilliance, it was very difficult to find quality education because she was a woman. She was extremely determined however and became the fist woman to study physics at the University of Vienna. She received her Ph. D in 1906. Her family was extremely gifted. It is also noted that all 8 children went on to higher education. Also, her nephew was gifted in nuclear physics and discovered that using the isotope uranium-235 made a much stronger nuclear weapon.  During her career she made ground breaking discoveries in the field of nuclear and quantum theory. Many of her discoveries affected the history of World War II, and still affect us today.

            In 1907, after receiving her Ph. D, Meitner went to Berlin to study with Max Planck, a famous quantum physicist. While she was there she started to work very closely with one particular Chemist, Otto Hahn. She and Hahn did experiments involving radioactivity. During this research she was not paid because society frowned upon women working with scientists and they did not hold a professional title. However this changed in 1914, when she became the first woman to be part of the physics department in the University of Belgium. There, she was paid for her work, although, not equally. Lise Meitner is probably the most notable women scientists in the 20th century, and possibly of all time. Her discoveries of nuclear fission lead to many important inventions in nuclear physics, and new age thinking in quantum mechanics. The atrocities of World War II disgusted Mietner to the point where she cut all ties with her former partners who worked for Nazi Germany. She spent her later years she aan advocated an equal role of women in science. She retired in 1960 and died later that same year.


Contributions to STEM

    When the Nazi party came to power in Germany they took away her status as professor because she was born Jewish. This is when they began to do experiments involving nuclear fission. The experiment they conducted was closely related to the process of an atomic bomb. The team observed what happened to a uranium nucleus when it was collided with a neutron. She did continue to work there until in 1938 she became classified as a Jew by the Nazi party and could no longer work there. She soon had to flee the county in fear for her life when the Nazis started to round up the Jews. She fled to Sweden where she was not given the proper equipment or assistant to do her experiments. However, her other colleagues stayed in Germany during the war. With Meitner gone the team had to continue the experiments themselves. Hahn did write her often and trying to get some insight on the observations. Hahn found that when a neutron collides with the atom of uranium it is split into two barium byproducts. Meitner figured out that the uranium nucleus split into two lighter elements. She also discovered that Einstein’s famous E=mc^2 equation predicted the massive amount of energy released by fission of the atom. Hahn wrote an article of what they found and did not include Meitner’s name on it.


Interesting Facts 

  • The Manhattan Project was started without Meitner’s or Einstein’s knowlage, even though they are often given credit for building the atom bomb.
  • In fact, The Manhattan Project is the only the only thing Lise Meitner received public credit for, even though she had no part in it.
  • Hahn received a Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission, even though Meitner helped greatly with the understanding of nuclear fission.
  • One of the reasons that Meitner didn’t receive credit for the paper she and Hahn worked on is because it may have angered the Nazi party and put Meitner in danger if they had found out the co-author was a Jew.
  • The heaviest element in the world, Meitnerium, was named after her.
  • She also received the Enrico Fermi award in 1966, 6 years after she had died.



Impact on 21st Century Society and Culture

     With the discovery of nuclear fission, other nuclear and quantum physicist were making ground breaking discoveries of their own. Enrico Fermi invented the nuclear reactor which today is 20 percent of America’s energy. As coal and oil power becomes more expensive, and scarcer, nuclear power is one of the major alternatives the world is turning to power our cities. Meitner’s major contribution to nuclear physics has gone unnoticed until fairly recently. She is not an icon in science and many people don’t even know who she is. The reason why she is so important to the STEM community is because she is one of the few role models women have to look up to in STEM fields today. Many women throughout history have had their ideas stolen or have not received any credit for helping when credit is due. STEM fields are in need of women like Lise Meitner to be role models for young women wanting to go into stem fields.


Works cited


Davis, Lucas W. "Prospects For Nuclear Power." Journal Of Economic Perspectives 26.1 (2012): 49-66. Business Source Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.


Goldstein, Gary R. "Patricia Rife. Lise Meitner And The Dawn Of The Nuclear Age." Peace & Change 26.1 (2001): 95. Academic Search Complete. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.


Raquel, Gonçalves-Maia. "Lise Meitner: The Interpreter Of Nuclear Fission [Lise Meitner: A Intérprete Da Cisão Nuclear]." Revista Virtual De Química 2 (2012): 173. Directory of Open Access Journals. Web. 4 Feb. 2014.


"Lise Meitner (1878 - 1968)." Lise Meitner. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb. 2014.










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