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Lise Meitner: The Under Recognized Woman of Physics

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Essay title: Lise Meitner: The Under Recognized Woman of Physics

Mehria Qarizada May 24, 2005

Physics Professor Fayyazuddin

Lise Meitner: The Under Recognized Woman of Physics

Lise Meitner was one of the first women who lead the world in the study and advancement of Physics. She was born to Philipp and Hedwig on November 7, 1878 in Vienna. Lise was surrounded by intellects all her life. Indirectly, her father’s profession as a lawyer and her mother’s socializing in the same circles as Sigmund Freud influenced her level of intelligence. Naturally, Lise was generous, humbly gifted and devoted to her work, enough to sacrifice family and personal relationships. Overall, Lise Meitner worked under shadows of male physicists. She was the under recognized woman who developed the theory behind nuclear fission that would lead to the making of the atomic bomb.

Lise Meitner was the third of eight children. She grew up with the love of science; however she could not go after her ambitions right away. She agreed to her father’s advice and attended the Elevated High School for Girls, where she earned her diploma to teach French. This would have been a more practical career direction for a woman during the 19th century. Although she accomplished her teaching requirements, she could not forget her love for science. Lise began studying with a local tutor for the university entrance exam. Through hard work Meitner prepared for the exam in two years instead of the usual four years. Her talent and devotion lead her to complete her entire studies in the University of Vienna. In 1906, she became the second woman to earn her Ph.D. Inspired by her professor Ludwig Boltzmann she had chosen Physics over mathematics and stayed on Boltzmann’s laboratory as an assistant to his assistant. It is quite obvious that her level of education far succeeded this position. This was another struggle Meitner surpassed. A female with a doctorate was rarely heard of at this time. She had no offers from universities and suffered from sexism. Being good spirited and a strong woman she used this small opportunity to work her way up her career. A chain of events caused Lise to move to Berlin. After Boltzmann’s suicide in 1907, the university had Max Planck to visit the lab and continue Boltzmann work. Planck refused the offer however his conversation with Meitner about quantum physics and radiation research inspired Lise to study in Berlin at the Institute of Experimental Physics.

There she met a young chemist by the name of Otto Hahn. Hahn worked at the institute under Emil Fischer. Meitner became his partner and the only other scientist with an interest in radiochemistry. This gave Hahn an advantage due to his lack of training in physics and Lise’s specialty in it. Again Lise ran into problems. The institute did not allow women; therefore through persuasion of Hahn and Meitner, they were allowed to set up a lab in the basement as long as Lise did not enter the upper floors.

From here on Meitners’ career advanced although she still dealt with sexism, eventually she succeeded in her goal. At one incident she was chosen to write an article by an encyclopedia editor who read the article and wanted to publish it. After learning of her gender he took back his offer stating a woman’s work could not be published. Less than a year at the institute the school opened up classes to women and she was allowed to enter the building. In 1912 after visiting the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Dahlem with Hahn, Planck offered her a position as assistant professor at the Institute of Theoretical Physics. Lise became the first female professor in Germany.

When World War I started in 1914, both Meitner and Hahn temporarily suspended their studies to serve their country. Hahn entered German military and Meitner volunteered as an X-ray technician in Austria. Every now and then

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