WiSW4: Lise Meitner

The only career available to women was teaching, so she trained as a French teacher. Despite her limitations she pressed further towards becoming a physicist. Meitner entered the University of Vienna in October 1901 and became the second woman to earn a doctoral degree in physics, after Elsa Neumann.

Meitner was a key figure in discovery of protactinium and nuclear fission. Just like what happened to Rosalind Franklin, her role in the experiment that led to the discovery of the fission was never properly awarded. Many believed that she was denied or robbed of a Nobel Prize because the award was given to Otto Hahn, one of the other scientists, physicist and chemists working on the project.

At the age of eight, Meitner was already fascinated by mathematics and science, and research. She studied colours of an oil slick, thin films, and reflected light. Her education included bookkeeping, arithmetic, history, geography, science, French and gymnastics.

Because women were forbidden to study in 1899, Meitner began taking private lessons with two other young women, cramming the missing eight years of secondary education into just two. By the time Meitner was studying at the university, two important discoveries were made in the field of physics: the discovery of radioactivity in 1896 and the electron in 1897.

Meitner received many awards and honors late in her life and also received many posthumous honors. Despite not having been awarded the Nobel Prize, Meitner was invited to attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 1962.


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