lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

M is for Lise Meitner – Physicist, #AtoZ Challenge

Smithsonian Institution(1878-1968), lecturing at Catholic University, Washington, D.C


Lise Meitner was born in Vienna on the 7th November 1878, and died in Cambridge, England, on 27th of October 1968.

Her parents were Jewish. Lise was a clever little girl who loved maths and science – by the time she was 8 she already kept a notebook of her scientific investigations under her pillow.

She had very supportive parents, and even though women at that time were not allowed to study in public institutions, they enabled her to study physics privately, taking external examinations, and to eventually become the second woman to obtain a PhD in physics at the University of Vienna.

She spent most of her scientific career as a physics professor and department head at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute – the first woman to become a full professor of physics in Germany. However, the second world war was about to start and she lost these positions because of  the Nazi anti-Jewish laws, and had to flee to Sweden to live for many years, in the end taking Swedish citizenship.

She was highly regarded in the scientific community and she attended the lectures of and then worked for the famous physicist Max Planck.

She then went on to work with Otto Hahn, they discovered several new isotopes, and a physical separation method known as radioactive recoil (I Have NO idea what this means!), which they then developed.

In 1917, they found the first long-lived isotope of the element protactinium, and she was awarded the Leibniz Medal by the Berlin Academy of Sciences.

In 1922, she discovered the cause of the emission from surfaces of electrons with ‘signature’ energies, now known as the Auger effect. But despite the fact that she discovered and published her findings first, it is named after Pierre Victor Auger, a French scientist who independently investigated the effect in 1923.

She was given many awards and much recognition towards the end of her life, however, was not named in the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for nuclear fission – it was awarded just to her long-time collaborator Otto Hahn.

The records made by the committee that decided on that prize were opened in the 1990s and read, and scientists and journalists called her exclusion ‘unjust’.

Meitner received the posthumous honour of chemical element 109 being named as meitnerium in 1997.

Yet another clever and extraordinary women.


If you’d like to read about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!





  1. What a pity to not even get a mention???? Shame.


    • Shocking, isn’t it, and yet completely normal at that time – not long ago! Women weren’t even allowed to TRAIN to become physicists until recently either.


      • Even now when any woman can add , she is looked upon as an oddity


  2. It’s only because she is a woman tha she was not given these credits which is a crime. This is amazing and I wish I knew more of what you wrote but, alas, I have no clue just that she was one smart cookie!


    • Birgit, i did physics to O level and that’s it, I’m afraid the Auger effect (or should i say the Meitner effect?) is a complete mystery to me, too – i might understand a glimmer while reading about it but 2 minutes later it’ll be gone.


  3. It’s SO unfair that Pierre Victor Auger was credited and she was bypassed.
    This is a wonderful and informative theme, Liz.
    Now I’m wondering just how many intelligent women have been denied recognition in different fields of inventions/discoveries in the past centuries… so sad.
    Sharon Himsl who blogs at has a similar theme which you may enjoy. She’s blogging about female scientists before our time, from as far back as BC.
    Writer In Transit


    • Ooo, thank you, Michelle, I’ll try and find her – unless i’m on my laptop I can’t comment on Blogger themes which has kept me out of posting as well on the A-Z, as on all my macs I’m just not able to. I’ve found this year’s A-Z very divisive, very hard work, and extremely frustrating. Writing the posts after 6 years of doing it was easy!

      There are loads of women similarly bypassed, I haven’t had to look hard to find loads who did fabulous things, and of course loads of women of excellent intelligence who didn’t get to university because they grew up in less enlightened households, or because they had husbands who wouldn’t let them, or because they were of less determined nature.

      i found one woman who designed, built and flew an aeroplane before the Wright brothers – dressed in crinolines. must find her again and write about her sometime!


  4. Tina Basu

    ohh that’s so sad and unfair!


  5. Fascinating to read about this amazing lady. What a travesty that she wasn’t recognised properly! At least WE now know how much of a contribution she made to our knowledge. 🙂

    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos


    • This is true – sadly there are probably so many, many more who contributed or invented or gave away knowledge without being acknowledged in any way whatsoever…


  6. Sounds like she made a brilliant contribution, it’s just a crying shame that she didn’t get proper recognition during her lifetime.


    • It must have been very frustrating – not just the big things, but the countless every day experience of being thought lesser.


  7. Lise’s story is new to me. It’s unfortunate it took so long for her to get the credit she deserved. It’s happened to so many women over the years and centuries. Giving them recognition on our blogs help. Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi, Sharon. Yep, it seems a puny way to do it, but I’ve noticed recently that along with our new poetry book addressing the same subject, there are some other factual books doing the same.


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