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Esther M. Zimmer Lederberg
Gender Discrimination: Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner

Esther M. Lederberg had to overcome gender discrimination as best she could. Esther M. Lederberg was not alone in this respect. Consider the physicist, Lise Meitner.

Austrian-born physicist Lise Meitner publishes her discovery in 1939 that uranium nuclei split, supporting the ability to have chain reactions (exponential increase). Nazi Germany contributed to her obscurity. As a Jew, she had to flee the country to survive, but escaping prevented her from publishing with her colleague Otto Hahn. Gender discrimination along with anti-Semitism prevented her from getting credit for her discovery that led to splitting the atom and, ultimately, the atomic bomb and nuclear power. Only Otto Hahn received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery. Einstein even called her “our Marie Curie.” Meitner's research was conveniently overlooked by the Nobel committee when it awarded a prize for the research.

Meitner is a prominent example of a scientist where gender or religion (consider the times) disqualified her for the Nobel prize.

Even though Einstein's views about physics were referred to by the NAZIs as "Jewish Physics", after the war, Germany still wanted to gain some national credit. Lisa Meitner (Germany) was awarded the Max Planck Medal of the German Physics Society in 1949 * , as well as the Enrico Fermi Award in 1966.

* "The Kaiser Wilhelm Society", and the "Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes" were renamed "The Max Planck Society" and its associated "Max Planck Institutes", as well the "Max Planck Society Archive" after the end of World War II. The reason for renaming these institutions is that they were so deeply associated with the NAZI ideology and NAZI programs of murder, racism, etc. Thus it is ironic that Lise Meitner was given any awards by institutions that held such anamosity to Jewish women associated with "Jewish Physics". See