Otto Hahn

Otto Hahn

The inventor of atom splitting

– © Barch_Bild

Otto Hahn was born on the 8th of March 1879, as son of a merchant in Frankfurt am Main. After school he began a course of studies in chemistry, which he completed with a doctorate in 1901. In 1910, Hahn received his appointment as professor in Berlin. After the National Socialists came into power in January 1933 and the subsequent expulsion of Fritz Habers, Hahn was appointed to acting Director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Nevertheless, he held distance from the regime as far as it was possible for him: Hahn separated himself out from the Berliner University and also refused the usual admittance to the NSDAP. Starting 1933, Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner researched the irradiation of uranium with neutrons. Together with Fritz Straßmann (1902-1980), Otto Hahn succeeded the first atom splitting in 1938 (by bombardment with slow neutrons). Lise Meitner, with whom he was in correspondence with after her flight out of National Socialist Germany, could give the first physical explanation of the process in 1939.
In 1944, Otto Hahn received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for “his discovery of the fission of heavy (uranium) nuclei as basis for the later peaceful and military use of the nuclear energy”. Not until 1946, after being released from war captivity, was he able to accept the award. In the 50’s, the atom splitter, together with other scientists, warned about the military use of nuclear energy.