Otto Hahn (1952) - Radiochemistry and the Fission of Uranium (German Presentation)

Otto Hahn (1952)

Radiochemistry and the Fission of Uranium (German Presentation)

Otto Hahn (1952)

Radiochemistry and the Fission of Uranium (German Presentation)

Comment

The recording presented here is a short and incomplete part of the first of five lectures given by Otto Hahn in Lindau. All five lectures have been printed in a special publication of the journal Naturwissenschaftliche Rundschau from 1981. The present recording is only 12 minutes and 5 seconds, but it still has two very interesting components. The first one appears in the introductory comments given by Hahn. They were not printed and were probably spontaneous. It seems that Count Lennart Bernadotte had expressed the view, that the invited Nobel Laureates were morally obliged to accepting the invitation. Hahn counters by expressing his and the other Laureates joy in being in Lindau, comparing it to the joy of school children on an outing. In fact, Otto Hahn became extremely fond of the Lindau Meetings and after having been invited for the first time in 1952, didn’t miss a single meeting until the year he died (in July, 1968). All in all, this amounts to 16 meetings in a row, a number that during the 20th Century was only topped by another German chemist, Ernst Otto Fischer, who participated in 27 meetings in a row! The second interesting component is that the letter of invitation apparently had asked the Nobel Laureates to speak about their most recent research. In 1952, like in 1951, the audience mainly consisted of mature practitioners with academic degrees and not, as today, of students and young researchers. Hahn is aware of the letter-of-invitation, but since he has not been given the possibility to perform any research recently, he has decided to tell an educative story from the past: How the development of radiochemistry led to the splitting of the uranium nucleus. Interestingly enough, in the audience is Frederick Soddy, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 1921, who with his discovery of isotopes at once cleared up most of the problems that radiochemistry had encountered before 1920. After Hahn’s introductory comments, he starts to deliver the printed lecture, about one page of which can be heard here. The continuation of this printed version of the lecture takes up the research work done by Hahn together with the physicist Lise Meitner and later on also with the chemist Fritz Strassmann. It appears that Lise Meitner, though not a Nobel Laureate, was invited to Lindau at least once. On a beautiful colour photograph from the middle of the 1950’s, she and Hahn are discussing with physics Nobel Laureates Werner Heisenberg and his former mentor and co-quantum-mechanics inventor Max Born. A historic photograph published in the book Nobelpreisträger in Lindau from 1963!

Anders Bárány

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