Lise Meitner was born in Austria on 7 November 1878, the daughter of the Viennese lawyer, Phillip Meitner. In 1901 she entered the University of Vienna, becoming Doctor of Philosophy in 1906.
In the following year Meitner left Austria and went to Berlin [Germany] to study with the physicist Max Planck, becoming joint discoverer of Thorium-C in 1908. In 1912 Meitner moved on to work with Otto Hahn at the Chemical Institute, Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft, in Göttingen. During the First World War she served for a time as an X-ray nurse in the Austrian Army, but continuing her research, Meitner became the discoverer of Protoactinium in 1917, and the following year was made Head of the Radiation Physics Department at the Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft, a position which she held until she left Germany in 1938. In 1926 Meitner became a Professor of the University of Berlin, and also a correspondent of the Royal Society of Göttingen.
In 1938 Meitner fled Nazi Germany, travelling to Sweden to work at the Nobel Institute, and in 1939 discovered nuclear fission, working jointly with her old colleague Otto Hahn. After the war, Meitner moved to the Swedish Atomic Energy Laboratory in 1947 and in 1949 took Swedish citizenship. She retired to Cambridge in 1960, dying there on 28 October 1968.
Although it was Hahn, not Meitner who was awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on nuclear fission, Meitner received many other honours. She became a member of the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1945, a foreign member of the Royal Society of London in 1955 and a member of the Austrian Academy in 1960. She was awarded the Otto Hahn Prize in 1955, and the Enrico Fermi Award in 1966. Her publications include: Beitrage zur Physik der Atomkerne, Atomvorgange und ihre Sichtbarnachung (1926) and Der Aufbau der Atomkerne (1935).
The papers include: material on Professor Meitner's many honours; diaries; notebooks, including laboratory notebooks, scientific memoranda, calculations and lecture notes; offprints of articles; correspondence, including general and miscellaneous correspondence and correspondence with family and colleagues; material on the Nobel Prize, mainly recommendations and descriptions of work by candidates; birthday greetings; photographs; personal papers, including school reports, official documents and accounts; family correspondence; articles, mainly about Professor Meitner (unfortunately when she fled from Germany in 1938, she had to leave the drafts of her own articles before 1939); film and recordings, including interviews about Professor Meitner, and recordings made by Meitner herself.
The language of most of the papers is, of course, German and before 1945 the old (Gothic) script predominates. After 1938, there are increasing numbers of letters in Swedish. Professor Meitner wrote quite well in both English and Swedish, but preferred to use German if her correspondent was fluent in that language. For a short period, Professor Meitner made use of an elaborate series of abbreviations for her drafts. Some of these can be found in MTNR 9/18.
The main body of Professor Lise Meitner's papers were deposited at the College by her nephew, Professor O.R. Frisch, FRS, between August and December 1969 and in January 1974. Other smaller accessions have been received from various sources between 1970 and 1989.
The papers were received in considerable confusion. An elaborate system for filing correspondence had broken down after 1956 (probably because of Professor Meitner's age). In addition, many letters had been removed from the system (presumably after 1956) and others had escaped filing completely. These papers had usually been stored in old envelopes, but the labelling was either totally incorrect or did not describe the entire contents of the envelope. Professor Meitner also left many papers behind on leaving Germany in 1938.
Because cataloguing had to commence before all the papers were received, the arrangement of groups is not ideal. Sections 3-6 contain most of the scientific papers and sections 7-9 most of the personal items, but the distinction is not a precise one and the present arrangement of sections will be sufficiently clear. Some files have had to be added at the end of the appropriate section for the same reason - in particular Professor Meitner's own articles (4/54 & 55) and letters written by her which had been returned to Professor Frisch (5/33 and 9/17). These have been indicated by cross-references.
The offprints of articles were also in a state of disorder and mixed with miscellaneous papers. The extraneous material has been removed and the offprints sorted into chronological order.
The photographs were also received unsorted and many were found tucked inside irrelevant correspondence files. They are now arranged by subject, where possible, as many of them were undated or remain unidentified.
The papers are owned by Churchill College, with the exception of MTNR 1/31 (medals) which are on loan from the Meitner family.