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75 years post-Hiroshima, Jewish ‘mother of the bomb’ inspires spy thriller novel

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German scientist Otto Hahn won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of nuclear fission.

However, Hahn wasn’t alone in making the discovery. The credit should have also gone to his longtime research colleague, physicist Dr. Lise Meitner. It was yet another example of the Matilda Effect, a bias against acknowledging the achievements of women scientists whose work is attributed to male colleagues.

Meitner and Hahn had worked together since 1935 with chemist Fritz Straßmann to produce transuranics (very heavy artificial elements) by bombarding uranium with neutrons.

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The Austrian-born Jewish Meitner was forced to flee Nazi Germany and her position at Berlin’s Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in 1938, ending up in Stockholm, Sweden. Hahn corresponded with Meitner about ongoing experiments, and it was Meitner and her physicist nephew Otto Robert Frisch who recognized in early 1939 that the nucleus of an atom had been split in two. The two subsequently devised a further experiment to confirm and measure the reaction.

The Former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin. The building was badly damaged during WWII. It was restored and became part of the Free University of Berlin in 1948. It was renamed the Otto Hahn Building in 1956, and the Hahn-Meitner Building in 2010. (Fridolin freudenfett [Peter Kuley] via WikimediaCommons)

Hahn and Straßmann published the findings, and word got out quickly among scientists on both sides of the Atlantic. Not long after, refugee physicists Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard warned US president Franklin Roosevelt that Germany might try to build a nuclear bomb. In response, Roosevelt ordered American scientists and the military to advance nuclear research, ultimately resulting in the creation of the top-secret Manhattan Project in August 1942.

This year — the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that brought about the end of World War II — Hollywood screenwriter and director Jan Eliasberg has published a spy thriller novel based on Meitner’s........

© The Times of Israel

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