"The German Madam Curie."
-Albert Einstein about Lise Meitner
Lise Meitner was born on November 7, 1878, in Vienna, Austria, one of eight children. From early childhood, she had an interest in mathematics and physics, and when she was 23, she attended the University of Vienna. She graduated from the university in 1906 with a Ph.D. in physics.
Lise moved to Berlin in 1907, becoming the chemistry assistant to Wilhelm Ostwald. There, she tested alpha and beta radiation and developed the recoil method to conduct her experiments.
In 1914, Lise was working with her partner, Otto Hahn, when he was drafted for World War I. Lise chose to write articles for the Brockhaus Encyclopedia when he was gone, but she was forced to stop when the editor found out she was a woman and wouldn't publish her articles. So in July 1915, Lise became an x-ray technician for the war effort. However, she soon became homesick and returned to Berlin in 1916.
When she returned to Berlin, Lise began trying to discover the element on the periodic table that was between thorium and uranium. Hahn returned for a short while and together in 1918, they discovered the long awaited element between thorium and uranium: protactinium.
In 1923, Lise became a lecturer in the physics department of the University of Berlin, the first woman to do so. She won the Leibniz prize and the Leiben prize, and she also received Nobel Prize nominations for ten consecutive years.
In 1933, Hitler began taking control of Germany and Lise began to fear for her life and her job because she was Jewish. However, she refused to leave her studies because she believed she was protected by her Austrian lineage. So, she and Hahn began looking for elements above uranium in 1934. However, on March 12, 1938, Hitler invaded Austria and she became susceptible to the Third Reich's laws.
Instead of having Lise remain in Germany, Hahn and her friends planned her escape, which she did on July 12. Still, she continued to work with Hahn, communicating by letters. However, she couldn't have her name on any publications because she was a runaway, so Hahn was receiving all the credit in their partnership.
Together, Hahn and Lise discovered fission, the separation of atom nuclei (and thus the formation of a different element) by bombarding the nuclei with neutrons. In 1946, Hahn alone received the Nobel Prize for the discovery of fission. However, he gave a tribute to her in his acceptance speech, praising her great role in the discovery, and gave Lise all the reward money from the prize.
Lise died in 1968. In 1992, Mieternium was the name given to element 109 in her honor.