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Lise Meitner

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Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner
(7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968)
was an Austrian, later Swedish, physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. 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.
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.

Element 109, Meitnerium, is named in her honour.

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"). 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.

In 1912 the research group Hahn-Meitner moved to the newly founded Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut (KWI) in Berlin-Dahlem, south west in Berlin. She worked without salary as a "guest" in Hahn's department of Radiochemistry. It was not until 1913, at 35 years old and following an offer to go to Prague as associate professor, that she got a permanent position at KWI.

In the first part of World War I, she served as a nurse handling X-ray equipment. She returned to Berlin and her research in 1916, but not without inner struggle. She felt in a way ashamed of wanting to continue her research efforts when thinking about the pain and suffering of the victims of war and their medical and emotional needs.

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