Case study: 1944 in awarded to collaborator

After finishing her Ph.D. degree, Lise Mietner moved to , . She came to study with Max Plank. This was where she met Otto Hahn. Hahn was working with famous when he met Lise Meitner. At that time, Fischer did not allow women in his laboratory. Instead, Hahn and Meitner created a workshop in the basement of the Chemical Institute just for Lise to work in. For 15 years Lise Mietner and Otto Hahn worked together. Then, in 1920, they decided to separate their research projects. They worked together very closely in the lab but they were very formal outside of the lab. Otto Hahn respected Meitner’s research but he would not stand up for her if anyone questioned it. However, Mietner’s other friends and peers (including ) saw her as the leader of the research group. In 1934, Meitner asked Hahn and for help with some experiments. She wanted to work on making new elements that were beyond on the . This was the research for which Hahn would eventually win the Nobel Prize. The were a very difficult time for Lise Meitner because she had a Jewish background (her grandparents were Jews who had converted to Lutheranism). In Germany at this time, anyone who had “Jewish blood” was discriminated against and in danger of losing their position. Because of this, she could not present her own work. When Hahn presented their work, he could not mention Mietner’s name out of fear it would get him in trouble as well. Finally, it became clear to Meitner that she had leave Germany. In 1938, she moved to so that she could keep working. Before Mietner left Germany, Hahn and Strassmann did experiments which seemed to show the nuclei of uranium had been split into smaller nuclei. This was a very surprising result! While Mietner was in Sweden, she continued to write to Hahn about their uranium investigation. She started working with her nephew, Otto Frisch, and quickly had an idea for what was happening to the uranium atoms. She calculated her result and told Hahn; this was the first time that anyone proposed the idea of (when a can be used to split an ’s nucleus into smaller pieces). She then sent urgent instructions to Hahn and Strassmann for how to carry out an experiment to confirm her ideas. Hahn and Strassmann left out Lise Mietner when they published a paper explaining their work. Right afterwards, Mietner and Frisch published a paper describing the process of “fission.” Hahn left out Meitner because he wanted to protect himself and his workplace. He won the in 1944 for the discovery of nuclear fission. Even though Mietner did not win the Nobel Prize, she did win some other awards. In 1966 she shared the Fermi Prize of Atomic Energy Commission with Hahn and Strassmann. During World War II, she was also asked to join the working on the atomic bomb. She refused and hoped that the project would not work. However, she was often asked for interviews about nuclear topics. Hahn did not like people claiming he should not have received the full prize, and sent out a statement to the press saying that Meitner was not involved with his Nobel-winning work.

Photo by Robert R. Davis, AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection


Case Study: Chien-Shiung Wu 1957 awarded to collaborators Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang

Chien-Shiung Wu came to the in 1936 from . She completed her Ph.D. work at the University of California-Berkeley. While working on her degree, she became a leading in nuclear fission (a part of ). Many top scientists would ask her questions, including . After she graduated, Wu moved to . She focused her research on , a type of nuclear radiation. She was well-known for her careful and reliable experiments. She expected that all of the graduate students working with her would be as careful as she was. Even though she was known as a great researcher, she was often discriminated against based on her gender and nationality. This meant that she was not considered for many promotion opportunities. She was one of the few scientists asked to stay at Columbia after the war to continue working on the . In 1952, she was finally promoted from a researcher to a professor at Columbia University. At this time, particle physics was quickly growing and many new particles were being discovered. Two of the particles discovered were the tau meson and the theta meson. These particles had the same properties but would break down into different things. This violated Fermi’s Law of Parity (a physics law that said physical events should be symmetrical with their mirror images). Then scientists Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning realized that no experiments had been done to actually confirm this law in small particles. They published a paper about how this experiment could be performed. Knowing that Wu had a lot of knowledge in this area, Lee asked her to put together a team and perform the difficult experiment. In 1957, Wu announced her result that Law of Parity did not work for small particles. The group published a paper about their work and Wu was listed as the first name on the paper. In 1957 Yang and Lee won the Nobel the Prize in physics for their paper that thought up Wu’s experiment. Many people, including Wu, thought that she should have been also awarded the prize. She was not awarded the prize with them because the Nobel Prize committee said that her work was not a “discovery or invention.” However, she was soon promoted to a full professor at Columbia University and many universities gave her honorary degrees later in her life. She was also the first woman to serve as the president of the American Physical Society.

AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection


Case Study: Marietta Blau 1950 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to Cecil Powell

Marietta Blau was a who studied particles and who played an important role in developing photographic techniques to detect particles. She finished her Ph.D. in 1919 at the University of , but could not find a research job that would pay her. She decided to continue her own research and became an unpaid volunteer at the Institute for Radium Research in Vienna. This was where she did some groundbreaking research photographic emulsions – pictures which would show the disintegration of particles. She asked Hertha Wambacher, a graduate student, to help her with the research. Together they discovered “stars” – small patterns of particle paths that occur when a cosmic ray hits an atom’s nucleus. Marietta Blau also worked on identifying other types of particles in the photos. Blau faced discrimination because of her gender and Jewish religion. Hitler took control of in 1938. At this time, Blau was working in . She would not be allowed back home, and was forced to move away from Norway in order to stay safe. Albert Einstein helped Blau become a professor in City by writing her a letter of recommendation. Along the way to Mexico, her scientific papers were taken by Nazi officials. Some of these papers included plans for her future research. Later on, her ideas were published in a paper by Wambacher and G. Stetter. Wambacher had worked with Blau before and both she and Stetter supported the Nazi party. Blau spent a few years in Mexico. In 1944 she moved to the United States to continue her research. In 1950, Cecil Powell won the Nobel Prize for physics for applications of the photographic method that Blau developed early in her career. Powell decided to make this his field of research once he had been alerted to Blau and Wambacher’s previous research of the topic. Blau was also nominated for the 1950 Nobel Prize due to her development of photographic nuclear emulsions but was not mentioned in the official report.

AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives, Gift of Eva Connors


Case Study: S. 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to and

Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell started her graduate studies in 1965 at University under the guidance of Antony Hewish. He was working on designing a telescope to detect “twinkling” radio signals from stars. Jocelyn Burnell and other students helped build the telescope over a span of two years. Burnell was the only one to run the telescope and analyze data. She was 24 years old and a graduate student when she first observed a . A pulsar is a type of star that emits radio signals which are evenly spaced. In Burnell noticed signals that looked different than quasar signals or interference from other places. At first, her mentor thought that the signals were man made. They even thought that there could be an alien source for the signals. Then Burnell determined that the unusual signals were not aliens. She found a few different sources of the same type of signals in different places in the sky. In 1968 they published a paper about the discovery with Hewish as the first author listed. Burnell was the second author listed on the paper out of five people. In 1974 Hewish and his own mentor won the Nobel Prize in physics. They were recognized for their work in radio astrophysics. Hewish was specifically recognized for “his decisive role in the discovery of .” In 1973 Burnell and Hewish jointly received the Michelson medal from the in Pennsylvania for the discovery of pulsars. The media soon became obsessed with Burnell’s story. Soon many press stories were being written about her involvement in the discovery of the pulsar. It has been argued that she was the most important person in this discovery because she noticed the tiny and easily missed signals. She also proved that they were from stars further away than our own sun. Burnell never said that she was upset about not being included in the Nobel Prize. She believed that her advisors set up the lab and assumed the risks. This was why they deserved the reward.

The Open University, courtesy AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives