top of page
  • Himani Vora


NUCLEAR FISSION is a process by which the nucleus of an atom splits into two or more smaller nuclei, resulting in the evolution of a tremendous amount of energy. This is what makes nuclear bombs and nuclear power plants possible.

Rather Lise Meitner, an Austrian born physicist was the one who made it possible. Born in a large Jewish family in Vienna and studying under Ludwig Boltzmann, she learned quickly that physics was her calling. Meitner became the second woman to acquire a doctorate in physics at the University of Vienna in 1905 overcoming the many Austrian restrictions on female education .She moved to Berlin and to attend Max Planck’s lectures .Soon, she became an assistant to Otto Hahn (an experimental chemist) and in collaboration they discovered the isotope of protactinium. Upon returning to Berlin she was made head of a physics section at the KWI (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute ) where she did research in nuclear physics.


The discovery of neutron by producing radioactive isotopes by neutron bombardment is what inspired Meitner. Being a Jewish woman she was forced to flee from the Nazis and take up a position in Stockholm .In 1938, on bombarding Uranium with neutrons, Hahn found isotopes of barium among the decay products which seemed unlikely .Sum of the masses of the elements violated the theory of Law of Conservation of Mass. She tried to explain this by assuming the nucleus was liquid. The disappearing of the mass could be explained by Einstein’s popular equation of E=mc^2 ,mass could be converted to energy which in calculation was a cosmic amount.

Lise Meitner and her nephew Otto Frisch sent their paper to ‘Nature’ and Hahn published his findings separately. Hahn would go on to receive the Nobel Prize for this work, but Meitner’s contribution was never acknowledged.

I decided to write about Lise Meitner after discussing her journey with my father’s friend, a leading scientist. He informed me that there are many Lise’s in this world whose good work will never be appreciated or recognized. Their research papers lie deeply buried in libraries. Real heroes don't work for fame, fame follows Real Heroes. Probably their true value is not ascertained when they are alive but their fame is celebrated after death!

Lise Meitner was an ingenious physicist and her findings have been the basis for many more discoveries. Real heroes are all around us and uncelebrated!

12 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page