75 Years Nuclear Fission

Symposium on 06.02.2014

January 31, 2014

The event will be held on
February 6, 2014, from 2-5 pm
in the seminar rooms at the MPI for Chemistry,
Hahn-Meitner-Weg 1, 55128 Mainz

Participation is free of charge. Please register under pr@mpic.de.

Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn in their Berlin laboratory about 1909.

75 years ago the nuclear fission was discovered by Otto Hahn, Fritz Straßmann and Lise Meitner. To mark this occasion, a symposium will be held at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry on February 6, 2014. The historic view of the discovery and the current state of research will be highlighted.

Program (Please note that all talks will be in German)

  • 75 Jahre Kernspaltung. Die Geschichte einer Entdeckung Dr. Susanne Rehn-Taube, Deutsches Museum München
  • Generationswechsel in der Kerntechnik Dr. Gabriele Hampel, Institut für Kernchemie, Johannes Gutenberg Universität Mainz
  • Risiken des radioaktiven Fallouts nach einem schweren Reaktorunfall Prof. Dr. Jos Lelieveld, Max Planck Institut für Chemie


The date is December 17, 1938, only one more week until Christmas. Otto Hahn and his assistant Fritz Straßmann are experimenting with uranium in their Berlin laboratory. Just as Enrico Fermi, two years earlier, they wanted to create new, heavier elements by bombarding atoms with neutrons. Instead of the transuranian elements they were hoping for, they discovered lighter barium isotopes.

Looking for answers, Otto Hahn sends a letter to his colleague of many years, Lise Meitner, who is in exile in Sweden. As Austrian Jewess, she had left Germany already in the summer of 1938 and was now working in Stockholm. Together with her nephew, Otto Frisch, the physicist interprets the Berlin results: Bombardment with neutrons splits uranium nuclei - a phenomenon which previously was believed to be impossible.

The discovery of nuclear fission caused a worldwide stir. Research institutes, but also governments were thrilled about the possibility of generating energy by nuclear chain reaction. Nuclear research programs were established which quickly produced results: In the fall of 1942, Enrico Fermi started the first nuclear reactor in Chicago. In August 1945, the first atomic bombs destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the same year Otto Hahn had been honored with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and from then on he criticized the use of atomic energy for military purpose.

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