Lise Meitner

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Lise Meitner (7 or 17 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was an Austrian-born, later Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics.[1] Meitner was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission, an achievement for which her colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize. Meitner is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women's scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.[2][3][4] A 1997 Physics Today study concluded that Meitner's omission was "a rare instance in which personal negative opinions apparently led to the exclusion of a deserving scientist" from the Nobel.[5] Element 109, Meitnerium, is named in her honor.

Contents

Early years

Meitner was born into a Jewish family as the third of eight children in Vienna, 2nd district (Leopoldstadt). Her father, Philipp Meitner,[6] was one of the first Jewish lawyers in Austria.[4] She was born on 7 November 1878. She shortened her name from Elise to Lise.[7][8] The birth register of Vienna's Jewish community lists Meitner as being born on 17 November 1878, but all other documents list it as 7 November, which is what she used. As an adult, she converted to Protestantism,[9] being baptized in 1908.[10]

Scientific career

Inspired by her teacher, physicist Ludwig Boltzmann, Meitner studied physics and became the second woman to obtain a doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna in 1905 ("Wärmeleitung im inhomogenen Körper").[4] Women were not allowed to attend institutions of higher education in those days, but thanks to support from her parents, she was able to obtain private higher education, which she completed in 1901 with an "externe Matura" examination at the Akademisches Gymnasium. Following the doctoral degree, she rejected an offer to work in a gas lamp factory. Encouraged by her father and backed by his financial support, she went to Berlin. Max Planck allowed her to attend his lectures, an unusual gesture by Planck, who until then had rejected any women wanting to attend his lectures. After one year, Meitner became Planck's assistant. During the first years she worked together with chemist Otto Hahn and discovered with him several new isotopes. In 1909 she presented two papers on beta-radiation.

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