The Splitting of the Atom
Lise Meitner

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Lise Meitner was extraordinary because she had an enormous influence on the world in general. She was Austrian in nationality, but Jewish in family decent. This soon became a problem in her life when the Nazi Germans began to persecute the Jews and force them into labor camps. However, because she was raised in Austria, the Germans considered her to be one of them. Lise Meitner passed through their eyes, and lived on.

Lise grew up to be a leading pupil. Later in her life, she attended school at the University of Berlin. There she was widely renowned for her natural ability in the scientific field of physics. Despite racial and sexist discrimination, she was the first female person in fifty-five years to receive an award for physics at the university. After graduating from the school, Lise teamed up with her cousin, Otto Hahn, who was also a leading physicist of the time. Together, they studied the actions of nuclear physics by using Lise's invention (later known as the atom splitter) to release neutrons at different atoms in the Table of the Elements. With the help of Hahn, Meitner was able to convince Emil Fischer, the owner of the Kaiser Wihelm Institute for Chemistry (below), to let her work in his lab for the experiment.

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They were conducting their experiments in the lab when Meitner began to get strange results form the Uranium atom when her bombardment of neutrons was tried on its atoms. It was emitting radioactive energy! With Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn working together, they soon came to conclusion that isotope 135 of the Uranium atom was the cause for the strange observations because of the isotope's unstable structure. Unknowingly, Meitner had stumbled upon one of the largest discoveries of science! Meitner and Hahn named the process fission.

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The significance of the discovery was almost infinite. Not only did their conclusion contradict that of many of more famous and pampered scientists internationally, but they also had unleashed the possibility of a nuclear reactor. If this was the case, a bomb of that potential, the size of the average man's fist, would be enough to end it all.

When news of Meitner and Otto's discovery reached scientist ears, they too soon realized that potential danger of such a bomb and decided to warn Theodore Roosevelt, the United States president at the time. However, they had no reputation, and therefore couldn't possibly gain the necessary attention of the US government. After great thought, they decided to convince a more famous and popular scientist to warn the president instead. This person was Albert Einstein. Albert agreed that the Nazi's possession of the nuclear bomb would be nothing less than a catastrophic apocalypse for the surrounding nations. Albert did write the letter, but because of the matters importance and secrecy, was not actually delivered to the president until six months post the sending.

Despite all that happened afterward, the discovery of fission wouldn't have happened if it weren't for Metner's invention (later known as the atom smatter). Made in 1939 by herself, the invention had a single and simple purpose. That being to release neutrons to make them collide with the atom.

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When the neutron and the atom collide the atom splits (thus the name), releasing more neutrons from the center of the atom. If there are enough atoms splitting at one time, it is possible to produce an almost instantaneous chain reaction via explosion. This is the method that Lise Meitner used on Uranium- Isotope 135 to release its atomic energy.

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        Unfortunately, the great atomic power was used for destructive instead of resourceful needs. On August 6, 1945 the Uranium bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and later a newly modified plutonium bomb.

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On the 23rd of October, 1966 She received the Nobel Prize for her pioneering in nuclear and molecular physics. Unfortunately this trophy of accomplishment did not help the condition of her health. In 1967, she broke her hip in a fall and suffered several small strokes; although she could not speak during the process, she felt no pain and made a partial recovery. The last few months of her life were spent in a nursing home. Because of her ill health and failing spirit, Lise was never told of the death of her cherished partner and family member Otto Hahn, when he died on July 28, 1968. Lise Meitner died in her sleep, just after midnight on the 27th of October, 1968, a few days before her ninetieth birthday. Today she rests eternally in the country graveyard in Bramley Hampshire, remembered as more than a scientist, but a model for humanity.

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            1) meitner_old.gif-

            2) meitner_coat.gif-
               "Lise Meitner Online." May 2, 1998.
  (April 20, 2000)


            1) Ruth Lewin Sime. Lise Meitner- A Life In Physics. London, England: University of California Press, 1996.

            2) C.P. Snow. The Physicists- A Generation that Changed the World. London, Englad: Little, Brown and
Company, 1981.

            3) Richard P. Brennan. Heisenberg Probably Slept Here- The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Physicists of the 20th Century. New York, United States: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997.


            1) Crawford, Deborah. "Lise Meitner, Atomic Pioneer." The Academic American Encyclopedia (1995 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia  Version). CD-Rom. Danbury: Grolier, Inc. 1995.