Lise Meitner was an Austrian-born physicist who is now known as “the mother of the atomic bomb” despite never being fully recognized for her contributions to the theory of nuclear physics and being denied a Nobel Prize.
Lise was born in 1878, but because she was female was unable to attend university in Austria until 1901, when she attended the University of Vienna. There she studied physics under Ludwig Boltzmann, who inspired in her a great love of life’s mysteries - and the idea that physics was the key to unlocking them all.
In 1907 she began work with Max Planck and Otto Hahn, studying the makeup and reactions of radioactive elements. Meitner and Hahn would continue to collaborate for 30 years.
When Germany annexed Austria in 1938 Meitner, who was born Jewish but had converted to Protestantism, emigrated to Stockholm. There she was without collaborators or laboratory equipment, and so was forced to try to solve physics puzzles through little other than correspondence.
On November 13, 1938, Hahn met secretly with Meitner in Copenhagen. At her suggestion, Hahn and Strassmann performed further tests on a uranium product they thought was radium. When they found that it was in fact barium, they published their results in Naturwissenschaften (January 6, 1939). Simultaneously, Meitner and Frisch explained (and named) nuclear fission, using Bohr’s “liquid drop” model of the nucleus; their paper appeared in Nature (February 11, 1939). The proof of fission required Meitner’s and Frisch’s physical insight as much as the chemical findings of Hahn and Strassmann. (s)
In 1945, Otto Hahn alone was named as the recipient of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of nuclear fission, with Meitner’s tremendous contributions being either overlooked or ignored. Although she and Hahn were jointly awarded the US Fermi Prize in 1966, her exclusion from the Nobel Prize is noted as “one of the most glaring examples of women’s scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.”
Meitnerium, element 109 on the periodic table, is named in her honor.