Mental Floss

4 Women Who Rocked Physics

Casey Johnston

When asked to name women who have significantly contributed to science, most people shrug and say, "Marie Curie?" In fact, women have added to our scientific repertoire capabilities no less than nuclear fission and modern day alchemy, among many other discoveries.

1. Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was a quiet, self-effacing Austrian-Jewish woman who has come to be known "the mother of the atomic bomb." After studying under Boltzmann and Planck (yes, that Boltzmann and Planck), she became the acting director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry in Berlin. It was there that, alongside partner Otto Hahn, she noted in an experiment that uranium-238 nuclei split into barium and krypton, along with several neutrons and a pocket of energy. Meitner was the first to describe and name the process-- "nuclear fission"-- and noted the potential for a chain reaction (Keanu Reeves not included). However, she was exiled from Germany shortly after the Anschluss, and so Hahn and two others published the research in 1938. For this, Hahn two other men won the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

2. Chien-Shiung Wu

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3. Maria Goeppert-Mayer

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4. Harriet Brooks

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