Why do physicists love physics

Free University of Berlin

"... It is a kind of personal love, like against someone to whom you owe a lot." This sentence could certainly also be from you 😉 - but it is from Lise Meitner. She was one of the most important scientists of the 20th century and was the first woman in Germany to receive a professorship in physics. In the fall of 2018, she was born 140 years ago and it was 50 years since she died in Cambridge. These anniversaries were the reason for the creation of the play "CORE QUESTIONS" about the pioneer of nuclear physics and an honorary doctorate from the Free University of Berlin. The next performance will take place on Friday, February 15, 2019 at 5 p.m. in the Henry Ford Building, Garystraße 35, 14195 Berlin. You are cordially invited to do so!

Lise Meitner was born in Vienna on November 7, 1878. There she also studied physics and mathematics and after her doctorate came to Berlin in 1907, where she worked, researched and taught at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Dahlem and at the Berlin University until she was expelled by the National Socialists in 1938.

On the stage of the Max Kade Auditorium, Lise Meitner looks back on her life and work. Your teacher, Max von Laue, sits in the audience and comments. The actress Anita Zieher gives Lise Meitner a character on the stage. She belongs to the Viennese group portraittheater, which performed the play for the first time in November 2018 in the Audimax of the Free University. Christoph Gareisen is the physicist Max von Laue, Dietmar König the chemist Otto Hahn.

The director Sandra SchĂŒddekopf has designed a very personal portrait that shows the woman behind the research results - in her friendships with Otto Hahn and Max von Laue, in her tenacity, but also in her frustration when obstacles are put in her way. And there are many stones. Born in Vienna in 1878, Lise Meitner was only the second woman in Austria to do a doctorate in physics. When she came to Berlin in 1907, too, she discovered that women had a difficult time in the male domain of the natural sciences. Free of charge and as an unofficial assistant, she started at Max Planck, the founder of quantum physics and later Nobel Prize winner, did not become a scientific member of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry until 1913 and did research for years in a lightless shed. For a long time the scientist was greeted mockingly by the students with "Hello, Mr. Hahn". Only in the Weimar Republic, in 1922, was she able to complete her habilitation. In the end, she succeeds in becoming the first woman in Germany to receive a professorship in physics.

Sandra SchĂŒddekopf - who studied drama and North American studies at Freie UniversitĂ€t - lets her protagonist tell all of this herself. She used Lise Meitner's notes and letters for this. In “CORE QUESTIONS”, however, the importance of the science location Berlin-Dahlem at the time also becomes clear. The Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes were a kind of “center for Nobel Prize winners”. Lise Meitner was in the sphere of influence not only of Max Planck, Max von Laue and Otto Hahn, but also of Fritz Haber and Albert Einstein. The physicist was nominated 48 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry, but ultimately never got it.

The dramatic climax is the time of National Socialism. Almost all of the correspondence between Lise Meitner and Max von Laue has survived from these years and the audience learns a lot about the experiences and feelings of Lise Meitner, who had to flee from Berlin to Stockholm as a Jew in 1938, and Max von Laue, who died during the war witnessed the bombing of Berlin and the institutes.

The play then also deals with the discovery of nuclear fission that Lise Meitner had prepared with Otto Hahn. When Hahn and his colleague Fritz Straßmann succeeded in the first nuclear fission on December 17, 1938, Lise Meitner was already in exile in Sweden and contributed the theoretical explanation from afar.

However, the scientific breakthrough was later associated with a bad moral conscience: when the atomic bombs fell on Japan in 1945, Lise Meitner went for hours walking. From then on she was called the “mother of the atomic bomb” in the media, paparazzi besieged her hotel, and imaginary interviews appeared. The physicist hardly feels personally responsible: “Science is certainly not bad, unfortunately we humans are.” During her work, she would not have had the “specter of poor application possibilities” in mind. Nonetheless, the pacifist campaigned for the purely peaceful use of nuclear energy all her life: "The developments in recent years have cast some shadows in the luminous image of science that I love so much."

Ultimately, only Otto Hahn is honored with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which Lise Meitner is deeply disappointed with. Her former workplace in Dahlem is also reopened in 1956 as the "Otto Hahn Building". The physicist is supposed to give the lecture at the opening ceremony, but refuses, also as a protest about the still lack of reflection on her treatment as a Jew during National Socialism. With the award of an honorary doctorate during the opening ceremony, Max von Laue wants to lure Lise Meitner to Dahlem, but does not succeed. Lise Meitner only accepted the award in May 1957 at the Free University. In 2010 the Otto Hahn Building was renamed: Hahn-Meitner.

The piece tells the story of Lise Meitner with a lot of variety - this includes projections, light art, film and live music by the pianist Andrea Marie Baiocchi and a choir hobby musician at the Free University have several opportunities to pursue their leisure activities: The Collegium Musicum is one joint establishment of the Free University of Berlin and the Technical University with decades of tradition. There is also the Young Orchestra of the Free University of Berlin ... More. If you're curious and want to see the piece, just register - by email [email protected]

  • "KEY QUESTIONS - In memory of Lise Meitner", Portraittheater Vienna
  • Friday, February 15, 2019, at 5 p.m.
  • Max Kade Auditorium, Henry Ford Building, Garystr. 35, 14195 Berlin
Author Marion KukaPosted on Categories My CampusTags Natural Sciences, Physics, Theater, Event