Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Lise Meitner at 140

Just over a week ago I missed commenting on the 50th anniversary of the death of Lise Meitner.  She died on 27th October 1968.  Fortunately, I've not missed commemorating her 140th birthday, which is today, 7th Nov 2018.

Lise Meitner, along with Otto Hahn and Otto Frisch, identified the process of nuclear fission in 1939.  This was a major breakthrough in understanding in physics, and of course had a momentous impact in world affairs, as the discovery rapidly led to the atomic bomb only a few years later, thanks to the exigencies of the wartime economy.

Famously, Lise Meitner was not awarded a Nobel Prize for the discovery;  that went to Hahn alone.  That aside she had the usual difficulties of doing science in a man's world, such as the lack of access to university education for which she had to fight and get special dispensation.  She was the first female full professor of physics in Germany, in 1926.  The UK, by contrast, first promoted a woman to a professorship only in 1971 (Daphe Jackson at the University of Surrey).

Meitner spent her retirement in the UK, and is buried not too far from Guildford; about 25 miles away in the village of Bramley, next to the family members she came to the UK to spend the final years of her life with.  Here is a picture (from Wikipedia) of her gravestone at Bramley.

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