Talk:Lise Meitner

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Meitner not only excelled in math and physics, but was one of Einstein's small circle of about a dozen mathmaticians and physicists who understood his theories at the time. Hahn, on the other hand, had no background in either math or physics. Hahn wrote two autobiographies. His scientific autobiography consists of the equations describing their experiments. In his personal autobiography, "My Life," Hahn explained that he had never studied math because in those days, before the atomic theory had become widely accepted, math was not necessary for students majoring in chemistry. With no background in math or physics, and no understanding of Einstein's theories, Hahn could not have, and did not discover nuclear fission, despite his being awarded the Nobel Prize for that feat. It was Meitner who designed their experiments, and while Hahn was capable of carrying them out, it was only Meitner who could interpret them.

Part of the purpose of discrediting Meitner and honoring Hahn, was to de-Nazify Hahn, who had been involved with the use of poison gas in WWI (a war crime), and had worked for the Nazis in WWII.

Does not compute. WWI was before the Nazis. Also, Hahn wasn't a party memeber, and this lead to some insecurity for him (although he did work with the Nazi regime). Hahn got the Nobel prize for fission in 1944, DURING the war. GangofOne 21:28, 9 November 2005 (UTC)
Very late reply: Actually as stated on the Nobel website, Hahn was retroactively awarded the 1944 Nobel prize for fission in 1945, after the war. This was correctly explained in the Hahn article and I have just corrected the Meitner article. Dirac66 (talk) 23:49, 26 August 2011 (UTC)

The outcome of this was that Meitner was unable to obtain funding to work on the problem of safely disposing of nuclear waste, a problem that has not been solved to this day. People are not computers. Some problems can be solved by hooking up computers in parallel, but 10,000 ordinary scientists working in tandem on a problem of this nature are not as likely to solve it as one genius who can think outside the box. Knowing the facts about Lise Meitner and the discovery of nuclear fission, if such a scientist existed today, they would not be likely to tell us the solution because we don't deserve to know. Einstein himself publicly regretted that in order to end WWII, it was necessary to give the secret of nuclear fission to the United States, which, despite living here after the war, he considered to be a fascist country. Having come from Nazi Germany, he would have known a fascist country when he saw one.

Another interesting sidelight is that when Meitner came to the United States to help Eleanor Roosevelt promote higher education for females, the New York Times headline said that Meitner's speech was about "cosmetic physics," instead of cosmic physics. While there is no proof that this sexist slur was intentional, in those days the New York Times was a lot less disreputable than it is now, and had far fewer factual or typographic errors.

US a fascist country.

I notice you do not provide any reference to support your statement that Einstein thought the US was a fascist country.  I have read 3 biographies of Einstein, and he never said this.  He was always a great beleiver in democracy, and an opponent of dictatorship.

Why do you not say what you really mean:

"I think the US is a fascist country, and love using Wiki to promote this idea".

Date of Birth[edit]

Apparently there is some disputer over Meitner's date of birth as she apparently celebrated her birthday on the November 7th despite being born on the 17th. User: stated in their edit revision "(changed date of birth from 7th to 17th. See a discussion of this interesting fact here: ISBN: 340780847X and here Either way I did not believe this trivia was relevant for the first line of the article and have removed it. If anyone deems it as important please feel free to site sources and include later in the article Majts 00:25, 15 October 2005 (UTC)


Added a brief summary of the race to discover element 93. Corrected some minor errors: Meitner was never Hahn's student. Meitner realized the potential for a nuclear chain reaction before Szilard. Left one misleading statement intact with reservations: although Meitner was born to a Jewish family she became a Lutheran as a young adult and remained so the rest of her life. Durova 19:40, 7 November 2005 (UTC)

"Meitner refused an offer to work on the project at Los Alamos, declaring that she would have nothing to do with a bomb." Can you document this offer and refusal? GangofOne 22:32, 7 November 2005 (UTC)
Ruth Lewin Sime's biography discusses it. Durova 00:36, 9 November 2005 (UTC)
Considering Meitner's prominence in the field and her authorship of a key discovery, it would have been surprising if the allies had overlooked her. Durova 03:46, 9 November 2005 (UTC)
"Meitner realized the potential for a nuclear chain reaction before Szilard." According to R Rhodes, The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Chapter 1 , based on Szilard Collected Works, 1972 p529, Szilard thought of it on Sept 12, 1933. When did Meitner think of it? GangofOne 22:32, 7 November 2005 (UTC)
Justify the 1933 date, please. If anyone had suspected nuclear fission so early then physics research would have run a very different course during the 1930s. The universal presumption was that atoms would not split. As it was, four different teams of scientists were splitting atoms from 1934 - 1938 without realizing it (and of course without causing chain reactions) because they were looking for something else: the elusive element number 93. Enrico Fermi actually won the 1938 Nobel Prize for a mistake. Everyone thought he had created the new element in his laboratory. About six weeks later, January 1939, Lise Meitner received a letter from Otto Hahn and deduced the correct result with the assistance of her nephew Otto Robert Frisch. Hahn, Meitner, and Frisch published their results shortly thereafter. Szilard was one of the first to circulate the finding within the scientific community. Events moved rapidly thereafter. Durova 00:36, 9 November 2005 (UTC)
Rhodes, Chapter 1 is all about leading up to that, based on something Szilard wrote. Collected Works, 1972, I don't know when this particular item was writen by Szilard, maybe retrospectively, so he could be self-deluded perhaps. Anyway, Rhodes , p28: "Szilard was not the first to realize that the neutron might slip past the postive electrical barrier of the nucleus; that realization had come to other physicists as well. But he was the first to imagine a mechanism whereby more energy might be released in the neutron's bombardments to the nucleus than the neutron itself supplied.
There was an analogous process in chemistry. Polanyi had studied it. A comparatively small number of active particles ... admitted into a chemically unstable system, worked like leaven to elicit a chemical reaction at temperatures much lower than the temperature that the reaction normally requiered. Chain reaction, the process was called. One center of chemical reaction produces thousands of product molecules. One center occasionally has an especially favorable encouter with a reactant and instead of forming only one new center, it forms two or more ....[Szilard:] "it ... suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbs one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear c. r. I didn't see at the moment just how one would go about finding such an element, or what experiments would be needed, ... it might be possible to... liberate energy ... construct bombs" GangofOne 23:01, 9 November 2005 (UTC)
I'm rather suspicious of secondary sources on this subject. One extreme example was a mid-1950s popularization called Men and Atoms that described Meitner's and Frisch's discovery in Sweden while carefully avoiding Meitner's name or any gender pronoun in reference to her. One hates to impute bias, but something seems to be at work. Have you had a look at the original documents? The surrounding historical events argue very strongly in favor of Sime's interpretation. Durova 05:21, 29 November 2005 (UTC)
It sounds like Men and Atoms was just following the (historically inaccurate) lead of Hahn who downplayed Meitner's role; or maybe the author thought that if s/he mentioned Meitner s/he would have to think of a new title. I have not looked at original documents, nor original physics papers. (I am not an historian.) Let me clarify what the issue here is. There is no doubt that Meitner is the one who corrected identified the process of nuclear fission. The only issue I think we are here discussing was the concept of chain reaction, and who thought of it. What seems to be the case , according to Szilard, based on what I read in Rhodes, is that Szilard thought of the possibility in 1933, analogously to a chemical chain reaction, of a nuclear reaction that would produce neutrons, but this doesn't mean he thought this was fission; he was thinking of other possible nuclear reactions, such as when one bombards nuclei with neutrons, more neutrons come out. Such experiments go back to Rutherford. I think that the concept of nuclear chain reaction was obvious to all physicists in 1939, and possibility was immediately recognized, when the existence of fission, which produces extra neutrons, was clarified by Meitner. So I don't see how Meitner can be credited with the concept of nuclear chain reaction. But maybe I am misinterpreting what the issue is? Give me page number in Sime to read, I will look it over, I have it on my shelf. GangofOne 19:41, 29 November 2005 (UTC)

Don't bite the non-physicists[edit]

I'm just waiting for the physicists to get ahold of my added information. It is all from the ref I added, no speculation on my part, but the book is written for non-physicists, so terminology may not be perfect. I apologize in advance, feel free to change to better words. (Like I'm not sure fissile is the right word in the sense of "something that can be split" but I couldn't think of a better word. Pschemp | Talk 06:17, 2 February 2006 (UTC)


"It was politically impossible for the exiled Meitner to publish jointly with Hahn in 1939." Was this a jewish thing or a female thing? --Gbleem 07:11, 17 August 2006 (UTC)

I would guess it was a political Jewish thing rather than gender (although her gender still wouldn't have helped in the male-dominated Nazi era of "Kinder, Kirche und Kuche" - "children, church and kitchen" for German women then). Reason: scientific journals were amoung the most liberal publications. And Lise had already published a lot before the Nazis. She was a well-respected scientist long before. Engr105th 18:55, 30 June 2007 (UTC)

Definitely a Jewish thing. Even excessive numbers of women in science were already somewhat accepted, but collaboration with a Jew? In 1939 Germany? Oh no. (talk) 07:04, 6 February 2008 (UTC)

bomb in purse[edit]

On a visit to the USA in 1946 she received American press celebrity treatment, with the usual press inaccuracy, as someone who had "left Germany with the bomb in my purse".

Is this something the press claim she said? Could she have been saying it figuratively? --Gbleem 07:14, 17 August 2006 (UTC)

I do not believe this can be attributed as a quote by Meitner...More likely, it was journalistic license by the writer - and the "my purse" should be "her purse"....the statement would have been very out of character for Meitner, who did not care for American style publicity (see Ruth Lewin Sime's book)...Engr105th 18:58, 30 June 2007 (UTC)

Nationality and move to Cambridge[edit]

I added info on her move to England and her Swedish citizenship. My source is the Swedish encyclopedia "Nationalencyklopedin". Duribald 20:22, 12 October 2006 (UTC)

grammar error in first paragraph[edit]

With their help and private tuition she became one of the first to take advantage of recent relaxations in Austrian women has no access to further education.

This sentence is missing something but I'm hesitant to correct it as I might end up introducing misinformation. Can someone please correct? Wppds 15:22, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

Wppds is correct that the above sentence is terrible grammar. It looks like it has been deleted in the main article now....
I'm wondering why the Biography part seems to hold all the information on the person, and why its so focused on the nuclear aspect - of course the atomic discoveries are a dominant scientific theme of the 20th century. But it appears to me her Wiki bio ought to be broken down into her bio (discussing her education, the hurdles she overcame, etc), her lifes work, and a paragrpah on the atomic work and her missing out on the Nobel prize as a separate paragraph. Engr105th 19:06, 30 June 2007 (UTC)
She's extraordinarily well known for her work in nuclear physics, this seems akin to requesting that an article on Einstein have half of it about his theoretical physics and the other half about his personal life. Maybe I'm missing your point, but when someone is very well known for their contributions in a particular area it is appropriate, imo, to focus an article on that area, rather than making it a general biography of the person. KP Botany 19:15, 30 June 2007 (UTC)

There was still a grammatical error in the first para - "since 1935", an error Germans often make in English. I've corrected it. Maelli (talk) 20:08, 30 June 2015 (UTC)

commentary defending Hahn[edit]

I just reverted (diff) some good faith commentary by an anonymous editor that defends Hahn. I think it's a bit unnecessary to defend Hahn in Meisner's article, but there may be some useful information in there if someone cares to dig through it. (hence the diff) --lquilter 22:33, 8 October 2007 (UTC)


I've removed an unusual and unsourced claim: Due to an accounting error, many documents stated November 7, which is also the date Meitner used herself. Hard to see how an accounting error would result in a mistake in a birth record. Source, anyone? DurovaCharge! 17:09, 31 January 2008 (UTC)

Auger Effect[edit]

Lise Meitner discovered the effect in 1923, Auger 1925. Should this not be changed to Meitner effect? hgwb (talk) 06:42, 10 November 2009 (UTC)

In Wikipedia, it should of course be called what reliable sources call it, which I believe is the Auger effect. The brief description in that article says that Meitner discovered "Auger emission", without going into much detail of what she discovered in 1923 versus Auger in 1925. Tomas e (talk) 09:34, 10 November 2009 (UTC)

Career missing[edit]

From the discussion, I surmised that there was enough disagreement, that anything about her life after conversion to Christianity until the post-WWII period was stricken from the article. Is it time for a do-over of this article? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:46, 18 November 2009 (UTC)

Pronunciation, Please...[edit]

Am I right in assuming "LEE-za MITE-ner"?

Basesurge (talk) 14:57, 28 May 2010 (UTC)

Yes, I'm surprised no one's answered you yet! Maybe it will help to tell you about "ie" and "ei" in German, both of which come up a lot in that language, and "Ei" is in fact also a complete word (I assume you're an English-speaker): if you pronounce the second letter in each of them as if it were English (or "say its name", as we learned at school in London), you're dead right, so "ie" sounds like "ee", as in "bee", and "ei" sounds exactly like "eye" (but "das Ei", as a German word, means "the egg"!). There is no German word "Ie", however! Hope that helps! Maelli (talk) 16:17, 9 July 2015 (UTC)

Unknown friends?[edit]

Not sure what "However, unknown friends only checked after they knew she was safe." is meant to mean. Could someone fix? Rest reads well. Victuallers (talk) 14:33, 1 December 2010 (UTC)

That bothered me too. I assumed it meant that someone necessary to the investigation chain (whatever that was like) impeded the investigation, but I'll put a clarify tag on the sentence. Comet Tuttle (talk) 14:00, 14 July 2011 (UTC)
I could guess too, but someone needs to look up the source. If the paragraph is referenced properly, the source would be the next reference given which is Cornwell's book. Dirac66 (talk) 16:13, 14 July 2011 (UTC)

An end to the converting mass into energy myth[edit]

This must be removed, as it's either sloppy and therefore misleading English or impossible Physics. Since E is conserved, so is m, that is total _relativistic_ mass, as opposed to rest mass. Conversion of mass into energy is impossible as both are conserved, so the author may be mixing mass and rest mass which is not conserved. Getting kinetic energy out of a reaction in which there is a change in total rest mass is what I assume the author is trying o get at.CecilWard (talk) 14:30, 31 March 2011 (UTC)

Yes, the correct description is conversion of rest mass energy into kinetic energy. However this was and is often popularly described as conversion of mass into energy, especially for non-technical readers who have not understood that mass is a form of energy. So I will include both descriptions plus a link to mass-energy equivalence for more details.
Another error in the same sentence is the claim that Meitner was talking about "atomic decay". Actually others had previously discussed mass-energy equivalence in radioactivity, but Meitner's contribution was to understand the larger energies in nuclear fission. I'll fix that too. Dirac66 (talk) 00:56, 1 April 2011 (UTC)

References and Nationality[edit]

30 and 31 are in contradiction to each other. What was her nationality between 1938 and 1945? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:42, 19 June 2011 (UTC)

What exactly do refs 30 and 31 say which contradict each other? As for nationality, Austria was part of Germany from 1938-45. However Meitner was a Jewish refugee in Sweden so would have lost her citizenship and become stateless, at least until the end of the war. Dirac66 (talk) 20:54, 19 June 2011 (UTC)
OK, I see now what you mean by a contradiction. She was "bitterly critical of Hahn" but they were "lifelong friends". Since the second statement cites Hahn's memoirs (Erinnerungen), it must have been his opinion that they were still lifelong friends despite all that had occurred. So rather than stating as a fact that they were lifelong friends, it would be more accurate to say that "Hahn however wrote in his memoirs that he and Meitner had been lifelong friends". Dirac66 (talk) 22:21, 19 June 2011 (UTC)
I have always read that they remained friends after the war. You can be very disappointed with, and critical of, the decisions that a friend makes, and still remain friends with that person. Hahn would have had to been less than human to not understand Meitner's position on this subject. He probably just took this (deserved, in my view) criticism like a man, and maintained the friendship. (talk) 05:33, 26 August 2011 (UTC)
Can you find sources saying that they "remained friends after the war"? It is important to know whose opinion this was, and when the statement was made. Your speculations do not seem unreasonable, but we need sources to know the facts.
Also I think that the statement "they remained friends after the war" is subjective and can never really be proven. What could perhaps be proven with sources is Hahn's belief and/or Meitner's belief at various times. Dirac66 (talk) 17:05, 26 August 2011 (UTC)

Needs copyediting[edit]

This article shows obvious signs of being translated from German (not all of it, but significant chunks). Somebody needs to go through it and change the language to idiomatic English. I'll try to get to this, but, not guarantees. Paulmlieberman (talk) 13:24, 20 October 2014 (UTC)