The story of Austrian born physicist, Lise Meitner is a most compelling and little-known story. Against the double whammy of gender bias and anti-Semitism, Lise Meitner not only made the important discoveries of meitnerium, but also nuclear fission. British screenwriter, Tom Weston has written a fictionalized account in a novel which reads like a screenplay including section headings, “Fade In” and “Fade Out.” Lise Meitner was born in 1878 of wealthy Jewish parents but, like her sisters, converted to Christianity early on. Because upper level work was forbidden to girls, her parents fortunately paid for private tutoring for their clearly remarkable daughter. In 1905, she received the second doctoral degree ever awarded to a female from the University of Vienna. She became the first woman full professor in 1926. She then travelled to Berlin to study with Max Planck. Her first six years in Berlin were unpaid, because women were not allowed at university levels. She jointly discovered fission after working for thirty years with Otto Hahn in Berlin. She was forced to flee Nazi Germany and immigrate to Stockholm before the work was published, thus giving Hahn acknowledged rights and the subsequent Nobel Prize. Although Meitner was courted by the British and Americans, she refused to work on the atomic bomb.
The dialogue in Fission reads rather wooden and would have benefitted from a deeper and more realistic science jargon. Also, the author has a tendency to ascribe human emotions to inanimate objects such as castles that watch warily and are impotent. However, the description of the atomic bomb is quite beautifully wrought.
This novel can also be read on Facebook. To read more about the life of Lise Meitner, a heavier account is by scientist Ruth Lewin Sime entitled Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics or six other books. Fission tells a fascinating and interesting story, and I am indebted to the author for bringing forward this story of an incredible science heroine.
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