EPS Historic Site – Lise Meitner and the discovery of nuclear fission

By . Published on 15 December 2016 in:
December 2016, News, , , ,

On the 29th of October (2016) more than 70 physicists attended the inauguration of the second EPS historic site in Sweden. The Uddmanska house in Kungälv, outside Göteborg, is where the Austrian-Swedish nuclear physicist Lise Meitner was staying when she understood that it was possible to split an atomic nucleus.

Unveiling of the plaque by the President of the Swedish Physical Society, Anne-Sofie Mårtensson
Unveiling of the plaque by the President of
the Swedish Physical Society, Anne-Sofie Mårtensson

By the time Lise Meitner visited Kungälv, she was a refugee. As an Austrian-born Jewish scientist, she had to flee from Germany after the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi-Germany in 1938. The Christmas vacation in Kungälv that year became a historic event. It was during a snowy walk, together with her nephew Otto Frisch, that they realised that the latest experimental data could be explained by a process known today as nuclear fission. The story tells that she worked out the new equations in the snow.

It took the scientific community a long time to recognise the scientific achievements of Lise Meitner. She did not share the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of fission with her colleague, Otto Hahn, in 1944. Today she is justly considered to be one of the most important physicists of the 20th century.

The Uddmanska house in Kungälv, Sweden
The Uddmanska house in Kungälv, Sweden

At the Uddmanska house at “Västra gatan 9” in Kungälv there is now a plaque that describes her achievement.

The inauguration took place during the Swedish Physical Society biennial conference Fysikdagarna, which was arranged by the Gothenburg Physics Centre. A large group of attending physicists took the opportunity to participate in a guided walk in Lise Meitner’s footsteps and attended the unveiling of the plaque.

After the ceremony, the inauguration continued in the City hall in Kungälv, where the Chair of the Municipality, with a speech by Elisabeth Mattsson. The participants could also enjoy a short play specially dedicated to Lise Meitner. The actress Inger Hayman from Gothenburg City Theatre played the role of Lise Meitner with great empathy and showed how Meitner feared that her research would be used for military purposes.

“I was really moved by the play and I think it is great that there is also a particular play – “Remembering Miss Meitner” – that tells the story of this extraordinary woman”, says Anne-Sofie Mårtensson, President of the Swedish Physical Society.

“We are pleased that Lise Meitner’s achievements are recognized and that the site is highlighted in an international context”, says Björn Jonson, Professor Emeritus in Subatomic Physics at the Department of Physics, Chalmers. He is one of the promoters of the play – and also of making the Uddmanska house an EPS Historic Site.

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Joint EPS-APS Historic Site – The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ

The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS), located in Princeton, NJ-USA is one of the world’s foremost centers for curiosity-driven basic research. On 9 November 2016, the European Physical Society (EPS) and the American Physical Society (APS) were pleased to offically recognise the IAS as their first Joint Historic Physics Site in the United States. The text of the citation reads: "Honoring the pivotal contributions of the Institute for Advanced Study to the development of theoretical physics, including the work of Albert Einstein and many others."