April 10, 2021

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

March is Women’s History month, so at I, Science we are highlighting some of the incredible women who have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths - who have often been overlooked in our textbooks.
Lise Meitner portrait
Lise Meitner
Image Source: Acc. 90-105 – Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives

Lise Meitner, an Austrian-Swedish physicist, was the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. After receiving her doctorate from Vienna in 1906, she moved to Berlin in 1907 where she collaborated with chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann to research radioactivity. Their research led to the discovery of uranium fission – one of our most important nuclear fuels. Unfortunately, Meitner had to flee Germany in 1938 because of her Jewish heritage, and Hahn received the Nobel Prize for the research in 1939. While Meitner was nominated for a Nobel prize in both physics and chemistry 48 times between 1924 and 1965, she never won. Later, however, she, Hahn and Strassman shared the Enrico Fermi award for their research in 1966.

Unlike many of her contemporaries in nuclear research, she declined to work on the Manhattan project. The chemical element Meitnerium was named after her in 1997.