Science history: Lise Meitner, mother of the bomb

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She is also credited as the scientist who discovered nuclear fission, for which her longtime colleague Otto Hahn won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, while she was not mentioned in the honours.

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At a time when young women were not expected to pursue schooling beyond basic education, Meitner was allowed to continue with her studies, majoring in physics at the University of Vienna, and earning a PhD in 1906.

Continuing to break with tradition, in 1907 she was allowed to move to Berlin and attend a semester of lectures by renowned physicist Max Planck at the University of Berlin. She worked as Planck’s physics department assistant for nearly seven years.

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In the footsteps of our history

The Berlin district of Dahlem plays a special role in the history of the Max Planck Society. Many institutes, such as the MPI for Physics or Biochemistry, have their roots there. A new app now enables users to explore this history on their own.

Lise Meitner, Fritz Haber and Albert Einstein – their influence on Berlin-Dahlem as a science location continues to be felt today.

The Dahlem research campus in southwest Berlin wrote scientific history at the beginning of the 20th century. It was the location where the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG), founded in 1911, established its first institutes. The Max Planck Society, predecessor of the KWG was established in 1948. For the biochemist Adolf Butenandt, Dahlem was even ‘the heaven of science’. He was not the only one whose work was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Celebrate the women behind the periodic table

German chemist Ida Noddack left industry to hunt for missing elements, and co-discovered rhenium. Credit: KU Leuven University Archives

The story of how dozens of elements were corralled into a periodic table reaches beyond one person and one point in time. Scientists classified and predicted elements before and after Dmitri Mendeleev’s 1869 framework. And many more worked to find and explain these new substances. Noble gases, radioactivity, isotopes, subatomic particles and quantum mechanics were all unknown in the mid-nineteenth century.

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Here we spotlight some of the women who revolutionized our understanding of the elements. Marie Curie is the most celebrated, for her double Nobel-prizewinning research on radioactivity and for discovering polonium and radium1. Stories of other women’s roles are scarce. So, too, is an appreciation of the skills required, including tenacity and diligence in performing experiments, sifting through data and reassessing theories.

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