Lise Meitner: Her Escape from Germany and the Discovery of Fission

Climate & Space Seminar Series with Dr. Anthea Coster of MIT haystack Observatory

WHERE: Space Research Building, CSRB Auditorium, room 2246 show on map

WHEN: November 8, 2018 3:30 pm-5:00 pmADD TO CALENDAR

Lise Meitner: Her Escape from Germany and the Discovery of Fission: Climate & Space Seminar Series with Dr. Anthea Coster of MIT haystack Observatory

Please join us!

Title: "Lise Meitner: Her Escape from Germany and the Discovery of Fission"

Abstract: Lise Meitner was one of the pioneers of nuclear physics and co-discoverer, with Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, of nuclear fission. Albert Einstein once called her “the most significant woman scientist of the 20th century.” Yet by the 1970s, her name was nearly forgotten. With the publication of the book by Ruth Lewin Sime, “Lise Meitner, A life in physics,” to some extent her name has resurfaced. The chronology of the discovery of fission is considerably more complex than the facts, and clouded by events beyond the world of science. The facts are that on January 6, 1939, Hahn and Strassmann reported in Naturwissenschaften their chemical findings for fission. On February 11, 1939, Meitner and Frisch published in Nature the physical interpretation of the process they named fission. In 1944, Otto Hahn alone received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry “for his discovery of the fission of heavy nuclei.”

I became familiar with Lise Meitner and her story when, in 1972, Dr. Sime started writing my father for details about Lise Meitner's escape from Germany. This is because in July 1938, my grandfather, Dirk Coster, was the person who escorted her out of Germany. In Sime's book, Meitner's escape from Germany reads like a spy novel, except that it is completely based in fact. At age 59, Meitner left Germany forever with 10 marks in her purse, one small suitcase, and a diamond ring given to her by Otto Hahn that he had inherited from his mother.

This talk will be a combination of facts, excerpts from the film, “Path to Nuclear Fission: The Story of Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn” (a film by Rosemarie Reed), and personal stories heard from my father, aunts, and uncles. Lise Meitner's early years, her role in the discovery of nuclear fission, her escape from Germany, and the consequences that followed will be covered. Of special interest to this group is the involvement of Samuel Goudsmit, a friend of my grandfather’s and a professor at the University of Michigan from 1927 and 1946.

Dr. Anthea Coster is an assistant director and principal research scientist at MIT Haystack Observatory. Dr. Anthea Coster has made important contributions in quantifying GPS ionosphere effects and utilization of GPS measurements for ionospheric and atmospheric studies. With expertise in ground-based radio and optical instruments, and satellite-based measurements, Dr. Coster successfully compiled data from a myriad of instrumentation sources (the GPS network, incoherent scatter data from UHF/VHF Radars, and data from the IMAGE and DMSP satellites) for use in ionospheric research. Her work on analysis of ionospheric effect on satellite tracking, evaluation of the scintillation model WBMOD, comparisons between simultaneous GPS and incoherent scatter radar measurements of ionospheric TEC, and evaluations of several atmospheric density models and their input parameters for use in atmospheric drag calculations represent some of the earliest, original, groundbreaking efforts in the field, and are still widely cited today. Her pioneering efforts in introducing and relating GPS measurements to fundamental ionosphere studies has led to the recognition of GNSS as a viable low-cost, globally distributed sensor for space weather monitoring and ionosphere remote sensing.