The Latymer School History Magazine - page 17

Lise
Meitner
and Otto
Hahn in
their
laboratory.
1905 as the second woman
ever to obtain a doctoral
degree in physics from the
university.
Already marked out for her
persistence and hard work,
the papers she published
from the university attracted
the attention of physicist Max
Planck, who invited her to
become the first female
scientist permitted to attend
his lectures at the University
of Berlin. Within a year she
had become Planck’s
personal assistant, furthering
her interest and knowledge
in the field of radioactivity;
the subject that would be at
the core of all her future
research.
Through Planck, she met
chemist Otto Hahn and
together they formed the
Hahn-Meitner research
group – Hahn, perhaps
symbolically coming first. In
1912 they moved to the
Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute from
the University of Berlin and,
after a break working as an
X-Ray nurse during World
War 1, they continued to
work together throughout
the 1920s and 30s. In the
1930s the neutron was
discovered and they found a
new focus for their work. The
possibility of ‘bombarding’
uranium with neutrons to
form products heavier than
uranium started a race
between scientists all over
Europe for what they thought
would be a Nobel-worthy
discovery.
However, in 1933 work all
over Germany was being
disrupted as Adolf Hitler rose
to power and pressurised
Jewish scientists like
Meitner’s nephew, Otto
Frisch, to leave their posts
and emigrate. Meitner
guiltily kept her head in her
work until 1938, when the
German
annexation of
Austria forced
her to flee
through
Switzerland to
Sweden.
In exile she kept
in constant
written
correspondence
with Hahn,
meeting with
him and her
nephew Frisch
in Copenhagen
in November
1938 to discuss
further chemical
tests on
uranium.
Contrary to their
expectations,
this process did
not appear to
be yielding a
heavier
element. When
difficult
chemical tests
by Hahn
identified one of
the products as
barium, he
wrote to Meitner
looking for an
explanation,
saying the
uranium had
apparently
‘burst’. At this
point he
published the
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