PULLMAN, Wash. — Sacramento City College faculty member Ruth Sime will
talk about “Politics, Race and Gender: Lise Meitner and the Discovery of
Fission” March 3 on the Washington State University campus.
Sime’s 12:10 p.m. lecture in Fulmer Hall, Room 438, is about Meitner
(1878-1968), a prominent 20th-century physicist and co-discoverer of nuclear
One dramatic aspect of Meitner’s story is that she failed to get proper credit
for her share in the fission discovery because she was forced to flee Germany
just a few months before the December 1938 discovery took place in Berlin.
Sime said Meitner’s collaborators, chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann,
are generally regarded as the discoverers, and Hahn alone was awarded the
1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery.
In the course of writing her biography (“Lise Meitner: A Life in Physics,”
University of California Press, 1996), Sime showed that Meitner (and physics)
had indeed contributed to the discovery. She also illuminated the
circumstances by which Meitner was excluded from it.
Sime said the primary reason that separated Meitner from her colleagues was
the racial persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany. There also was a substantial
secondary effect of gender bias, in which many people — scientists, journalists
and historians — assumed that a woman would be only at the margins of
Sime, a chemist by training, came to Meitner’s story through a women’s
studies class she was asked to teach many years ago.
She has taught chemistry at Sacramento City College for 30 years and has been
interested in increasing the participation of women and other nontraditional
students in science.