Birthday: March 8, 1879
Died At Age: 89
Sun Sign: Pisces
Born in: Frankfurt
Famous as: Chemist
Died on: July 28, 1968
place of death: Göttingen
Cause of Death: Accident
City: Frankfurt, Germany
education: University of Marburg, Humboldt University of Berlin
awards: 1944 - Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1954 - Grand Cross 2nd Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
1966 - Enrico Fermi Award - Nuclear fission
1949 - Max Planck Medal
Who was Otto Hahn?
Otto Hahn was a renowned German radiochemist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of nuclear fission after a lifetime of working with radioactive isotopes. Nuclear fission is widely regarded as the key invention that enabled the atomic bomb, although Hahn was not involved with its development directly. He is considered to be one of the most famous chemists of all time and the "father of nuclear chemistry." He also was revered by many as a model scientist with an outstanding history of academic achievement, excellent working methods, and a strong record of personal integrity. In his lifetime, he was recognized by many scientists as one of the primary discoverers in chemistry and physics, and specifically, physics accomplished through chemistry. He was the founder and President of the Max Planck Society, an esteemed non-profit worldwide scientific foundation, and the last President of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, its predecessor organization. In his later years, he was a vocal critic of nuclear weapons and sought to have them banned. He was admired by many Germans as a model citizen, especially in the period following World War II, and he was the recipient of many scientific and civilian awards internationally. To know more about his life and works read on.
Childhood & Early Life
Otto Hahn was the youngest son of Heinrich Hahn, a glazier and businessman, and Charlotte Giese, born in Frankfurt Germany on March 8, 1879. He started conducting chemistry experiments at the age of 15 in the family laundry room, and two years later he announced his intention to become a chemist.
Starting in 1897, he studied at the ‘University of Marburg’, where he received a doctorate, working in chemistry and mineralogy. He also studied at the ‘University of Munich’ under Adolf von Baeyer.
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He took a position in radiochemistry at the ‘University College London’ in 1904 under Sir William Ramsay, the discoverer of inert gasses. Two years later, he went back to Germany to work at the ‘University of Berlin’ with Emil Fischer, who gave Hahn his own laboratory, where he discovered substances including radium-228 (mesothorium I) and thorium-230 (ionium).
He started teaching at the ‘University of Berlin’ in 1907 and met Lise Meitner, a physicist from Austria, with whom he would collaborate throughout his career. During the same time Hahn was considered one of the leading radiochemists in the world, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize by Adolf von Baeyer.
He then worked on explaining the phenomenon of radioactive recoil discovered by Canadian physicist Harriet Brooks.
In 1924, he was elected to full membership in the ‘Prussian Academy of Sciences’ after his name was nominated by Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Fritz Haber, Wilhelm Schlenk, and Max von Laue. Later that decade, and for nearly twenty years afterward, he was the director of the prestigious ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’.
On December 16 and 17 of 1938, Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann conducted experiments which created nuclear fission. The phenomenon was later explained by Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch.
In April 1945, he and nine other German scientists were taken into custody by the Allies and flown to England. The Nobel Prize committee decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to him, but he was not allowed to travel, hence he could not accept the award personally.
After the war, Hahn became a vocal spokesperson for social responsibility, saying that his discoveries should not be put to military use. In 1958, he and Albert Schweizer signed the Pauling Appeal to the United Nations, which called for the 'immediate conclusion of an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear weapons.'
Hahn’s collaboration with Lise Meitner resulted in the discovery of a new element named protactinium. The duo received several nominations for Nobel Prize in Chemistry throughout the 1920s. Later, the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’ (IUPAC) confirmed him and Meitner as the discoverers.
In 1938, he made his greatest discovery: nuclear fission. This discovery would later make atomic bombs possible, and although he was not directly involved with their development, he came to feel guilty about his research's contribution to these weapons.
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Awards & Achievements
In 1945, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of nuclear fission. This was likely one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of the 20th century. In total, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 22 times and for the Nobel Prize in Physics 16 times.
In 1957, he received the title of the Honorary Officer of the ‘Order of the British Empire’ from the United Kingdom and the ‘Gold Cross of the Order Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ from the Holy See.
Two years later, he received the Officer of the 'Ordre National de la Légion d'Honneur' from France and the ‘Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit’ from West Germany, in 1959.
In 1966, he received the ‘Enrico Fermi Award’ in the U.S.A. The honor was presented by Lyndon Johnson, President of the United States.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1913, he married Edith Junghans, an art student at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. Nine years later, he and his wife had their only child, Hanno.
He died on July 28, 1968, in Göttingen, Germany, from an accidental fall.
There have been numerous times when scientific bodies have tried, unsuccessfully, to name new elements after him. (This is despite a longstanding tradition that it is the right of the elements' discoverers to name them.)
A number of cities and districts in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have named secondary schools after him, and squares, streets, and bridges throughout Europe also have been named after him. More than twenty countries worldwide have issued coins, medals, or stamps bearing his portrait.
In 1999, he was elected the third most important scientist of the 20th century in a survey of 500 engineers, natural scientists, and physicians by Focus, a German news magazine. The first two were Albert Einstein and Max Planck.