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WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

Do you know of a great woman in engineering that should be recognized? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add her to the blog. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Woman of the Week - Lise Meitner

Posted March 05, 2018 4:30 PM by lmno24

Lise Meitner was an Austrian-Swedish physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics. In 1939, Meitner and her research partner Otto Hahn led the small group of scientists who first discovered nuclear fission of uranium when it absorbed an extra neutron.

Nuclear fission is the process exploited by nuclear reactors to generate heat and, subsequently, electricity. This process is also the basis of the nuclear weapons that were developed in the U.S. during World War II and used against Japan in 1945.

Meitner spent most of her scientific career in Berlin, Germany, where she was a physics professor and a department head at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. She was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. In the 1930s, she lost this job because of the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany. She fled to Sweden, where she lived for many years, ultimately becoming a Swedish citizen.

Meitner received many awards and honors late in her life. But, she was notably snubbed for the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission. That was awarded exclusively to Hahn. In the 1990s, the records of the committee that decided on that prize were re-opened. Based on this information, several scientists and journalists have called her exclusion "unjust", and Meitner has received a flurry of posthumous honors. Despite not having been awarded the Nobel Prize, Meitner was invited to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 1962.

The Nobel mistake, though never directly acknowledged, was partly rectified in 1966, when Hahn, Meitner, and Strassman were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. On a visit to the U.S. in 1946, she was given total American press celebrity treatment.

Meitner retired to Cambridge, England, in 1960, where she died October 27. In 1992, element 109, the heaviest known element in the universe, was named Meitnerium (Mt) in her honor. Many consider her the "most significant woman scientist of the 20th Century."

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