Fritz Strassmann

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Fritz Strassmann
Friedrich Wilhelm Strassmann

22 February 1902
Died22 April 1980 (aged 78)
Known forNuclear fission
AwardsEnrico Fermi Award (1966)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysicist, Chemist

Friedrich Wilhelm "Fritz" Strassmann (German: Straßmann; 22 February 1902 – 22 April 1980) was a German chemist who, with Otto Hahn in early 1939, identified barium in the residue after bombarding uranium with neutrons, results which, when confirmed, demonstrated the previously unknown phenomenon of nuclear fission.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Boppard, Strassmann grew up in Dusseldorf.[1][2] He began his chemistry studies in 1920 at the Technical University of Hannover, receiving a diploma in chemical engineering in 1924, and his doctorate in physical chemistry in 1929.[1][2] He did his Ph.D. work on the solubility of iodine gaseous carbonic acid.[1] Strassmann received a partial scholarship to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem, beginning in 1929.[3] There he studied radiochemistry with Otto Hahn, who arranged twice for his scholarship to be renewed. It expired in September 1932. He continued to work as a research student in Hahn's laboratory, without pay but also without having to pay tuition.[1]

In 1933 he resigned from the Society of German Chemists when it became part of a Nazi-controlled public corporation. He was blacklisted, and could neither work in the chemical industry or receive his Habilitation as a result.[1][4] Lise Meitner encouraged Otto Hahn to find an assistantship for Strassmann at half pay, and he eventually became a special assistant to Meitner and Hahn.[1] Strassmann considered himself fortunate, for "despite my affinity for chemistry, I value my personal freedom so highly that to preserve it I would break stones for a living."[4]

On 20 July 1937 Strassmann married Maria Heckter Strassmann, also a chemist. They had a son, Martin. She supported his refusal to join the Nazi Party.[1][4] During the war they concealed a Jewish woman in their apartment for months, putting themselves and their three-year-old son at risk.[5][4]

Strassmann's expertise in analytical chemistry was employed by Hahn and Meitner in their investigations of the products of bombarding uranium with neutrons. Of the three, only Strassmann was able to focus solely upon their joint experimental investigations, as Meisner was forced to leave Germany, and Hahn had extensive administrative duties.[1] In December 1938, Hahn and Strassmann sent a manuscript to Naturwissenschaften reporting they had detected the element barium after bombarding uranium with neutrons;[6] Frisch confirmed this experimentally on 13 January 1939.[7] In 1944, Hahn received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of nuclear fission, although Fritz Strassmann had been acknowledged as an equal collaborator in the discovery.[8][9]

From 1939 to 1946 he contributed to research at the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute on the fission products of thorium, uranium, and neptunium. He also worked on the dating of the age of minerals based on the half-life of radioactive elements and the enrichment of decay products. Strassmann and Ernst Walling developed the rubidium-strontium method of radiometric dating in 1936 and 1937, and Strassmann continued this work in 1942 and 1943.[1]

On 15 February 1944 and again on 24 March 1944, as part of the Bombing of Berlin in World War II, the Institute suffered severe bombing damage. The Institute was temporarily relocated to Tailfingen (now Albstadt) in the Württemberg district, in a textile factory belonging to the Ludwig Haasis company.[10][11] In 1946 Strassmann became professor of inorganic chemistry and nuclear chemistry at the University of Mainz.[2]

The Institute consisted of two departments: Mass Spectrometry and Nuclear Physics was Josef Mattauch's department, while Nuclear Chemistry was Strassmann's department. Mattauch was appointed director, but suffered from tuberculosis. In his absence, Strassman became acting director in 1948. As of 1949, the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute was renamed the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry, and moved from Tailfingen to Mainz, Germany. In 1950 Strassmann became its official director.[10][11] After Mattauch returned to the institute in 1951, there was considerable conflict over the allocation of resources to their departments.[1]

In 1953, Strassmann gave up the directorship, choosing instead to focus on his work at the university of Mainz, building up the department and working with students. He began with a few scattered rooms and very little money. He negotiated with the university and with Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabriken (B.A.S.F.) to fund an institute for the chemical sciences with a focus on nuclear chemistry. He also lobbied the federal government to fund a neutron generator, a research reactor and a special institute for nuclear chemistry. Strassman's Institute for Nuclear Chemistry officially opened on 3 April 1967. He retired in 1970.[2][1]

Maria Heckter Strassmann died of cancer in 1956. In 1959, Strassmann married journalist Irmgard Hartmann.[1]

In 1957 Strassmann was one of the Göttinger Achtzehn (Göttingen eighteen), a group of leading nuclear researchers of the Federal Republic of Germany who wrote a manifesto (Göttinger Manifest, Göttinger Erklärung) opposing chancellor Konrad Adenauer and defense secretary Franz-Josef Strauß's plans to equip the Bundeswehr, Western Germany's army, with tactical nuclear weapons.[12]

In 1966 President Johnson honored Hahn, Meitner and Strassmann with the Enrico Fermi Award.[13] The International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after him: 19136 Strassmann.[14]

In 1985 Fritz Strassmann was recognized by Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem as Righteous Among the Nations (חסיד אמות העולם) for hiding, together with his wife, a Jew in their home, risking their own life.[5]

Strassmann died 22 April, 1980 in Mainz.[2]

Internal report[edit]

Zur Folge nach der Entstehung des 2,3 Tage-Isotops des Elements 93 aus Uran G-151 (27 February 1942) by Otto Hahn and Fritz Straßmann was published in Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte (Research Reports in Nuclear Physics), an internal publication of the German Uranverein. Reports in this publication were classified Top Secret, they had very limited distribution, and the authors were not allowed to keep copies. The reports were confiscated under the Allied Operation Alsos and sent to the United States Atomic Energy Commission for evaluation. In 1971, the reports were declassified and returned to Germany. The reports are available at the Karlsruhe Nuclear Research Center and the American Institute of Physics.[15][16]

Further reading[edit]

  • Fritz Straßmann: "Über die Löslichkeit von Jod in gasförmiger Kohlensäure", Zeitschrift f. physikal. Chemie. Abt. A., Bd. 143 (1929) and Ph.D. thesis Technical University of Hannover, 1930
  • Fritz Krafft: Im Schatten der Sensation. Leben und Wirken von Fritz Straßmann; Verlag Chemie, 1981


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Krafft, Fritz. "Strassmann, Friedrich Wilhelm (Fritz)". / Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e Friedlander, Gerhart; Herrmann, Günter (April 1981). "Fritz Strassmann". Physics Today. 34 (4): 84–86. doi:10.1063/1.2914536. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  3. ^ "Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann". Science History Institute. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d Sime, Ruth Lewin (1996). Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-520-08906-8. OCLC 32893857.
  5. ^ a b "Strassmann Fritz". The Righteous Among the Nations Database. Yad Vashem. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  6. ^ O. Hahn and F. Strassmann Über den Nachweis und das Verhalten der bei der Bestrahlung des Urans mittels Neutronen entstehenden Erdalkalimetalle (On the detection and characteristics of the alkaline earth metals formed by irradiation of uranium with neutrons), Naturwissenschaften Volume 27, Number 1, 11-15 (1939). The authors were identified as being at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Chemie, Berlin-Dahlem. Received 22 December 1938.
  7. ^ O. R. Frisch Physical Evidence for the Division of Heavy Nuclei under Neutron Bombardment, Nature, Volume 143, Number 3616, 276-276 (18 February 1939) Archived January 23, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. The paper is dated 17 January 1939. [The experiment for this letter to the editor was conducted on 13 January 1939; see Richard Rhodes The Making of the Atomic Bomb 263 and 268 (Simon and Schuster, 1986).]
  8. ^ Per F Dahl (1 January 1999). Heavy Water and the Wartime Race for Nuclear Energy. CRC Press. pp. 73–. ISBN 978-0-7503-0633-1.
  9. ^ Bowden, Mary Ellen (1997). Chemical Achievers: The Human Face of the Chemical Sciences. Chemical Heritage Foundation. pp. 76–80.
  10. ^ a b "Chronik des Kaiser-Wilhelm- / Max-Planck-Instituts für Chemie" (PDF). Max-Planck-Instituts für Chemie. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  11. ^ a b Palme, Herbert (2018). "Cosmochemistry along the Rhine" (PDF). Geochemical Perspectives. 7 (1): 4–10.
  12. ^ Castell, Lutz; Ischebeck, Otfried, eds. (2003). Time, Quantum and Information. Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg. pp. 50–51. ISBN 978-3-662-10557-3. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  13. ^ Scientific and Technology Division, Library of Congress (1967). Astronautics and Aeronautics. Washington, D.C.: Scientific and Technical Information Branch, National Aeronautics and Space Administration. p. 259.
  14. ^ "19136 Strassmann (1989 AZ6)". JPL Small-Body Database Browser. NASA. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
  15. ^ Hentschel, Klaus; Hentschel, Ann M. (1996). Physics and National Socialism: An Anthology of Primary Sources. Birkhäuser. p. XVI, XLVIII., See Appendix E; entry for Kernphysikalische Forschungsberichte.
  16. ^ Walker, Mark (1993). German national socialism and the quest for nuclear power, 1939-1949 (1st pbk. ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 268–274. ISBN 0-521-43804-7.

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