The Path to Nuclear Fission: The Story of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn (2006)


Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn. Photograph from Max Planck Archiv, Berlin
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Documentary Description

This program is the story of the lives and times of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn, two remarkable scientists whose collaboration culminated in the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938, turning Einstein's "theory" into atomic science. Meitner and Hahn revolutionized the history of science and the role of women in physics and chemistry; their tale parallels the social changes and turbulent history of their times, involving the war against memory, Nazi intimidation, forced exile, betrayal and a Nobel Prize in chemistry that to this day distorts science history. The Story of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn In 1938, with Hitler in power, the discovery of nuclear fission was made by the physicist Lise Meitner and the chemist Otto Hahn. This documentary will explore their lives and the work that led them down the path of this discovery.

This absorbing film details the story of a brilliant Jewish woman, Lise Meitner, who made scientific history when she and her collaborator, Otto Hahn, discovered nuclear fission in 1938. Yet her forced emigration from Nazi Germany meant that Otto Hahn would never credit her contribution when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1944.

Lise Meitner, a shy young physics student from Vienna, and the worldly Otto Hahn, a chemist, became close friends and colleagues in 1907. At the time, the nature of atoms and elements was still poorly understood. Their collaboration benefited from their separate disciplines. Meitner and Hahn's first period of joint research culminated in their discovery of the "missing" radioactive element, protactinium, in 1918. Meitner was a pioneer in the field that became known as nuclear physics. She published the first theoretical interpretation of the fission process, calculated the enormous energy released and coined the name "fission" which was instantly accepted by the physics community.

Lise Meitner became prominent within a circle of colleagues that included Einstein, Max Planck, and Niels Bohr. Although their names became household words, few people know of her contributions.


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