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This is a portrait of Lise Meitner and her explanation of nuclear fission. Meitner is shown in dark silver ink with a neutron flying from her brow towards a uranium nucleus, and the ensuing chain reaction is shown in red. The print is in an edition of 6 printed on white Japanese kozo (or mulberry) paper, 12.3 inches by 12.5 inches (31.2 cm by 31.8 cm).

Lise Meitner (7 November 1878 – 27 October 1968) was a world-class physicist who collaborated with chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Straßmann in the 1930s in Berlin. The team was investigating whether there were any stable elements beyond uranium, on the periodic table. They discovered that bombarding nucleus of uranium-235 with neutrons that they actually triggered it to fission, or break, into two nuclei of roughly half the size and some free neutrons! Hahn's chemistry allowed the startling discovery and identification of barium, but no explanation of the mechanism involved; Meitner's physics provided the explaination of how fission could be possible and its implications. Otto Hahn was awarded the 1945 Nobel prize for chemistry. Though Meitner won many accolades, the Nobel committee neglected her contribution, in one of the most blatant and egregious instances of their overlooking women's scientific achievements.

Hahn and Meitner's research was disrupted by WWII. Meitner was of Jewish heritage and she had to make a daring escape via the Netherlands to a new home in Sweden, in 1938. Despite their separation, they continued to work together, planning the experiments which lead to the discovery of fission at a meeting in Copenhagen. Hahn and Straßmann performed the experiments and Hahn realized that the presence of barium could only make sense if the nuclei had split, but he needed Meitner's help to understand how this could be. Meitner was able to apply the latest physics, the liquid-drop model of the nucleus, to explain how the absorption of an extra neutron could produce an unstable nucleus which split into two large pieces, the daughter nuclei, and more free neutrons. Most importantly she saw that the combined mass of the neutron and uranium-235 was larger than the products and that the 'missing mass' would all be transformed into vast amounts energy according to Einstein's famous equation E = mc². She also saw how the newly produced high-energy neutrons would in turn strike other uranium nuclei, leading to a chain reaction. She worked with her nephew, physicist Otto Frisch to develop this theory. In Germany in 1939, Hahn could not publish jointly with Meitner. Hahn and Straßmann submitted the team's results (that bombarding uranium with neutrons produced barium) for publication in 1938. Meitner and Frisch interpreted these results correctly as nuclear fission in Nature in 1939.

The physics community recognized that the huge energies produced by these fission chain reactions could be used to produce a bomb, and further, that expertise existed in Nazi Germany. Physicists on the Allied side, lead by Leó Szilárd, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner immediately worked to persuade Albert Einstein to bring this danger to the attention of F.D. Roosevelt, which ultimately lead to the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. Meitner herself refused to be involved in weapons research or the Los Alamos project declared, "I will have nothing to do with a bomb!" She never returned to Germany or her Austrian homeland, even after the war, making a life in Sweden and retiring to England. Her nephew Otto Frisch composed the inscription on her headstone. It reads "Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity."

Apart from her role in discovering and explaining nuclear fission, Meitner had many great achievements. She was the only second woman to be granted a doctoral degree in physics by the University of Vienna, where she studied with the great
Ludwig Boltzmann. She moved to Berlin and worked for Max Planck before beginning her 30-year long collaboration with Otto Hahn. Together with Hahn in 1917, she discovered the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, for which she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences. That year, Meitner was given her own physics section at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. In 1926, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to assume a post of full professor in physics, at the University of Berlin. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie". She visited the US in 1946, where she received the honour of the "Woman of the Year" by the National Press Club, many honorary doctorates and lectured at Princeton, Harvard and other US universities. She received the Max Planck Medal of the German Physics Society in 1949. Meitner was nominated to receive the Nobel prize three times. In 1966 Hahn, Fritz Strassmann and Meitner together were awarded the Enrico Fermi Award. In 1997, the element 109 was named Meitnerium in her honour. Today the Hahn-Meitner Institut in Berlin, craters on the Moon and on Venus, and a main-belt asteroid are all named in her honour.

You can find more of my science and scientist-themed prints here: http://www.etsy.com/shop/minouette?section_id=6820498
Ele Willoughby

Lise Meitner and Nuclear Fission Linocut History of Physics - Lino Block Print Scientist Portrait, Women in STEM, History Nuclear Physics,

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Overview

  • Handmade item
  • Materials: linoleum, paper, Japanese kozo paper, washi
  • Feedback: 232 reviews
  • Ships worldwide from Toronto, Canada
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