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Otto Hahn
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Otto Hahn, OBE, ForMemRS[1] (8 March 1879 28 July

1968) was a German chemist and pioneer in the fields of
radioactivity and radiochemistry who won the Nobel
Prize in Chemistry in 1944 for the discovery and the
radiochemical proof of nuclear fission.[2] He is regarded
as one of the most significant chemists of all time, and,
especially as "the father of nuclear chemistry".[3]

Otto Hahn

Hahn was an opponent of Jewish persecution by the Nazi

Party and, after World War II,[4] he became a passionate
campaigner against the use of nuclear energy as a
weapon. He served as the last President of the Kaiser
Wilhelm Society (KWG) in 1946 and as the founding
President of the Max Planck Society (MPG) from 1948 to
1960. Considered by many to be a model for scholarly
excellence and personal integrity,[4] he became one of the
most influential and respected citizens of the new Federal
Republic of Germany.

Frankfurt am Main,

1 Early life
2 Research in London and Montreal (19041906)
2.1 Discovery of radiothorium and other
'new elements'
3 Research in Berlin (19061944)
3.1 Discovery of mesothorium I (Ra 228)
3.2 Discovery of radioactive recoil
3.3 Marriage with Edith Junghans
3.4 Discovery of protactinium
3.5 Discovery of nuclear isomerism
4 Applied radiochemistry
5 Discovery of nuclear fission (1938)
6 Internment in England (1945)
7 The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1944
8 Founder and President of the Max Planck
9 Spokesman for social responsibility
10 Honors and awards
11 Legacy
12 Publications in English
13 See also

8 March 1879
Hesse-Nassau, Prussia,
German Empire


28 July 1968 (aged 89)

Gttingen, West Germany




Nuclear chemistry

Alma mater

University of Marburg


Theodor Zincke

Other academic Adolf von Baeyer, University of

Sir William Ramsay, University
College London;
Ernest Rutherford, McGill University
Emil Fischer, University of Berlin


Roland Lindner


Walter Seelmann-Eggebert
Johannes Heidenhain

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14 References
15 Bibliography
16 External links

Jan de Vries
Truus de Vries-Kruyt
Aristid von Grosse
Boris Nikitin
Laszlo Imre

Early life

Clara Lieber
Fritz Strassmann

Hahn was the youngest son of Heinrich Hahn

(18451922), a prosperous glazier and entrepreneur
("Glasbau Hahn"), and Charlotte Hahn, ne Giese
(18451905). Together with his brothers Karl, Heiner and
Julius, Otto was raised in a sheltered environment. At the
age of 15, he began to take a special interest in chemistry,
and carried out simple experiments in the laundry room
of the family home. His father wanted Otto to study
architecture, as he had built or acquired several
residential and business properties, but Otto persuaded
him that his ambition was to become an industrial
In 1897, after taking his Abitur at the Klinger
Oberrealschule in Frankfurt, Hahn began to study
chemistry and mineralogy at the University of Marburg.
His subsidiary subjects were physics and philosophy.
Hahn joined the Students' Association of Natural
Sciences and Medicine, a student fraternity and a
forerunner of today's "Landsmannschaft Nibelungia"
(Coburger Convent der akademischen
Landsmannschaften und Turnerschaften). He spent his
third and fourth semester studying under Adolf von
Baeyer at the University of Munich. In 1901, Hahn
received his doctorate in Marburg for a dissertation
entitled On Bromine Derivates of Isoeugenol, a topic in
classical organic chemistry. After completing his one year
military service, the young chemist returned to the
University of Marburg, where for two years he worked as
assistant to his doctoral supervisor, Geheimrat Professor
Theodor Zincke.

Salomon Aminyu Rosenblum

Karl Erik Zimen
Hans-Joachim Born
Boris Sagortschew
Hans Gtte
Siegfried Flgge
Nikolaus Riehl
Known for

Discovery of radioactive elements


Radiothorium (1905)
Radioactinium (1906)
Mesothorium (1907)
Ionium (1907)
Radioactive recoil (1909)
FajansPanethHahn Law
Protactinium (1917)
Nuclear isomerism (1921)
Applied Radiochemistry (1936)
Rubidium-strontium dating (1938)
Nuclear fission (1938)

Frdric Joliot-Curie
Enrico Fermi
Glenn T. Seaborg
Edwin McMillan
Albert Ghiorso
Emilio Segr
Philip Abelson
Joseph W. Kennedy
Nikolay Semyonov

Research in London and Montreal


Igor Kurchatov
Georgy Flyorov
Isaak Kikoin

Discovery of radiothorium and other 'new

Hahn's intention had been to work in industry. With this
in mind, and also to improve his knowledge of English,

Yulii Borisovich Khariton

Notable awards

Emil Fischer Medal (1919)

Cannizzaro Prize (1939)
Copernicus Prize (1941)

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Sir William Ramsay, London


Ernest Rutherford at McGill

University, Montreal 1905


he took up a post at
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1944)
University College
Max Planck Medal (1949)
London in 1904,
Paracelsus Medal (1952)
working under Sir
Henri Becquerel Medal (1952)
William Ramsay,
Pour le Mrite (1952)
known for having
discovered the inert
Faraday Lectureship Prize (1956)
gases. Here Hahn
ForMemRS (1957)[1]
worked on
Wilhelm Exner Medal (1958)
radiochemistry, at
Hugo Grotius Medal (1958)
that time a very new
Lgion d'Honneur (1959)
field. In early 1905,
Enrico Fermi Award (1966)
in the course of his
work with salts of
Edith Junghans (19131968)
radium, Hahn
discovered a new
substance he called
(thorium-228), which
at that time was
believed to be a new radioactive element. (In fact, it was a still undiscovered
isotope of the known element thorium. The term isotope was only coined in
1913, by the British chemist Frederick Soddy).
Ramsay was very enthused when yet another new element was found in his
institute, and he intended to announce the discovery in a correspondingly
suitable way. In accordance with tradition this should be done before the
committee of the venerable Royal Society. At the session of the Royal
Society on the 16 March 1905 Ramsay communicated Hahn's discovery of
radiothorium,[5] and even the press was interested. The Daily Telegraph
informed its readers:[6]

"A NEW ELEMENT - Very soon the scientific papers will be agog with a new discovery which has
been added to the many brilliant triumphs of Gower Street. Dr. Otto Hahn, who is working at
University College, has discovered a new radioactive element, extracted from a mineral from
Ceylon, named Thorianite, and possibly, it is conjectured, the substance which renders thorium
radioactive. Its activity is at least 250,000 times as great as that of thorium, weight for weight. It
gives off a gas (generally called an emanation), identical with the radioactive emanation from
thorium. Another theory of deep interest is that it is the possible source of a radioactive element
possibly stronger in radioactivity than radium itself, and capable of producing all the curious
effects which are known of radium up to the present. - The discoverer read a paper on the subject
to the Royal Society last week, and this should rank, when published, among the most original of
recent contributions to scientific literature."
For the first time the name of Otto Hahn was mentioned in connection with radium research, and his "New
radioactive Element, which evolves Thorium Emanation" (so the original title) was published in the Proceedings
of the Royal Society in the issue of 24 March 1905 (76 A, pages 115-117). It was the first of more than 250
scientific publications of Otto Hahn in the field of radiochemistry.

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"Hahn is a capital fellow and has done his work admirably. I am sure that you would enjoy having
him to work with you."
wrote Ramsay to Ernest Rutherford in May 1905.[7]
Rutherford agreed and, from September 1905 until mid-1906, Hahn worked in his team at McGill University in
Montreal, Canada where he discovered thorium C (later identified as polonium-212), radium D (later identified
as lead-210), and radioactinium (later identified as thorium-227), and investigated the alpha rays of
radiothorium,[8] while Rutherford used to say in these days: "Hahn has a special nose for discovering new
In his Rutherford biography the BBC Science Correspondent David Wilson analysed:[10]
"Greatest of all Rutherford's McGill collaborators was Otto Hahn, who became the world's leading
radio-chemist, a Nobel Prize winner, a man whose experiments showed the natural fission of
uranium, the crucial piece of work which opened the door to the atomic age in 1939."

Research in Berlin (19061944)

Discovery of mesothorium I (Ra 228)
In 1906, Hahn returned to Germany, where he collaborated with Emil Fischer at the University of Berlin. Fischer
placed at his disposal a former woodworking shop ("Holzwerkstatt") in the Chemical Institute to use as his own
laboratory. There, in the space of a few months, using extremely primitive apparatus, Hahn discovered
mesothorium I, mesothorium II, and independently from Bertram Boltwood the mother substance of radium,
ionium (later identified as thorium-230). In subsequent years, mesothorium I (radium-228) assumed great
importance because, like radium-226 (discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie), it was ideally suited for use in
medical radiation treatment, while costing only half as much to manufacture.
"Hahn was rapidly carving out his place as the world's leading radio-chemist, with a series of new
discoveries of radioactive daughter elements. He also showed a wisdom and humour which
impressed Rutherford, for when the New Zealander suggested "paradium" as the name for one of
Hahn's newly discovered elements - meaning "parallel to radium" - Hahn rejected the suggestion on
the grounds that the name was too reminiscent of military activity and goose-stepping."
wrote BBC's David Wilson in his Rutherford biography.[11]
In 1914, for the discovery of mesothorium I (radium-228), Otto Hahn was first nominated for the Nobel Prize in
Chemistry by Adolf von Baeyer and, in June 1907, by means of the traditional habilitation thesis, Hahn
qualified to teach at the University of Berlin. On 28 September 1907 he made the acquaintance of the Austrian
physicist Lise Meitner who was almost the same age, who had transferred from Vienna to Berlin. So began the
thirty-year collaboration and lifelong close friendship between the two scientists.

Discovery of radioactive recoil

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After the physicist Harriet Brooks had observed a radioactive recoil in 1904, but interpreted it wrongly, Otto
Hahn succeeded, in late 1908 and early 1909, in demonstrating the radioactive recoil incident to alpha particle
emission and interpreting it correctly.
"...a profoundly significant discovery in physics with far-reaching consequences",
as the physicist Walther Gerlach put it.[12] And Ernest Rutherford in Manchester wrote in a letter to his mother:
"He is doing the best work in Germany at present."[13]
In 1910 Hahn was appointed professor by the Prussian Minister of Culture and Education August von Trott zu
Solz and, in 1912, he became head of the Radioactivity Department of the newly founded Kaiser Wilhelm
Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem (today 'Hahn-Meitner-Building' of the Free University, Berlin,
Thielallee 63). Succeeding Alfred Stock, Hahn was director of the institute from 1928 to 1946. In 1924, Hahn
was elected to full membership of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin (proposed by Albert Einstein,
Max Planck, Fritz Haber, Wilhelm Schlenk, and Max von Laue).

Marriage with Edith Junghans

In June 1911, while attending a conference in Stettin (today Szczecin,
Poland) Otto Hahn met the young Edith Junghans (18871968), an art
student at the "Knigliche Kunstschule" (Royal Academy of Art) in
Berlin. On 22 March 1913 the couple married in Edith's native city of
Stettin, where her father, Paul Ferdinand Junghans, was a high-ranking
law officer and President of the City Parliament until his 1915 death.
Their only child, Hanno, born in 1922, became a distinguished art
historian and architectural researcher (at the Hertziana in Rome), known
for his discoveries in the early Cistercian architecture of the 12th century.
In August 1960, while on a study trip in France, Dr Hanno Hahn was
involved in a fatal car accident, together with his wife and assistant Ilse
Hahn, ne Pletz. They left a fourteen-year-old son, Dietrich. In 1990, the
Hanno and Ilse Hahn Prize for outstanding contributions to Italian art
history was established in memory of Hanno and Ilse Hahn to support
young and talented art historians. It is awarded biennially by the
Bibliotheca Hertziana Max Planck Institute of Art History in Rome.

Marble plaque in Latin by Professor

Massimo Ragnolini, commemorating
the honeymoon of Otto Hahn and his
wife Edith at Punta San Vigilio, Lake
Garda, Italy, in March and April
1913. (Unveiled by Count Guglielmo
Guarienti di Brenzone in 1983).

Discovery of protactinium
During the First World War, Hahn was conscripted into the army, where he was assigned, together with James
Franck and Gustav Hertz, to the special unit for chemical warfare under the direction of Fritz Haber. The unit
developed, tested, and produced poison gas for military purposes, and was sent to both the western and eastern
front lines. In December 1916, Hahn was transferred to the "Headquarters of His Majesty" in Berlin, and was
able to resume his radiochemical research in his institute. In 1917-1918, Hahn and Lise Meitner isolated a
long-lived activity, which they named "proto-actinium". Already in 1913, Kazimierz Fajans and Ghring had
isolated a short-lived activity from uranium X2 (later known as 234mPa), and called the substance "brevium".
The two activities were different isotopes of the same undiscovered element number 91. For their discovery
Hahn and Meitner were repeatedly nominated for the Chemistry-Nobel Prize in the 1920s by a number of
scientists, among them Max Bergmann, Viktor Moritz Goldschmidt, and even Kazimierz Fajans himself. In
1949, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) named the new element definitely
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protactinium, and confirmed Hahn and Meitner as discoverers.

Discovery of nuclear isomerism

In February 1921, Otto Hahn published the first report on his discovery
of uranium Z (later known as 234Pa ),[14] the first example of nuclear
"...a discovery that was not understood at the time but later
became highly significant for nuclear physics",
as Walther Gerlach remarked.[12] And, indeed, it was not until 1936 that
the young physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizscker succeeded in
providing a theoretical explanation of the phenomenon of nuclear
isomerism. For this discovery, whose full significance was recognized by
very few, Hahn was again proposed, from 1923 till 1929, for the Nobel
Prize in Chemistry by Naunyn, Goldschmidt, and Max Planck.

Hahn and Meitner, 1913, in the

chemical laboratory of the KWI.

Applied radiochemistry
In the early 1920s, Otto Hahn created a new field of work. Using the "emanation method", which he had
recently developed, and the "emanation ability", he founded what became known as "Applied radiochemistry"
for the researching of general chemical and physical-chemical questions. In 1936 he published a book in English
(and later in Russian) entitled Applied Radiochemistry, which contained the lectures given by Hahn when he was
a visiting professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1933. This important publication had a major
influence on almost all nuclear chemists and physicists in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and
the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1966, Glenn T. Seaborg, co-discoverer of many transuranium elements and President of the United States
Atomic Energy Commission, wrote about this book as follows:[15]
"As a young graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley in the mid-1930s and in
connection with our work with plutonium a few years later, I used his book "Applied
Radiochemistry" as my bible. This book was based on a series of lectures which Professor Hahn
had given at Cornell in 1933; it set forth the "laws" for the co-precipitation of minute quantities of
radioactive materials when insoluble substances were precipitated from aqueous solutions. I recall
reading and rereading every word in these laws of co-precipitation many times, attempting to derive
every possible bit of guidance for our work, and perhaps in my zealousness reading into them more
than the master himself had intended. I doubt that I have read sections in any other book more
carefully or more frequently than those in Hahn's "Applied Radiochemistry". In fact, I read the
entire volume repeatedly and I recall that my chief disappointment with it was its length. It was too
And Seaborg added:

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"It has been given to very few men to make contributions to science and to humanity of the
magnitude of those made by Otto Hahn. He has made those contributions over a span of nearly two
generations, beginning with a key role in the earliest days of radiochemistry in investigating and
unraveling the complexities of the natural radioactivities and culminating with his tremendous
discovery of the nuclear fission of uranium. I believe that it is fair to refer to Otto Hahn as the
father of radiochemistry and of its more recent offspring nuclear chemistry. For his special genius
the world of science will be forever grateful."

Discovery of nuclear fission (1938)

Jointly with Lise Meitner and his pupil and assistant Fritz Strassmann
(19021980), Otto Hahn furthered the research begun by Enrico Fermi
and his team in 1934 when they bombarded uranium with neutrons. Until
1938, it was believed that the elements with atomic numbers greater than
92 (known as transuranium elements) arose when uranium atoms were
bombarded with neutrons. The German chemist Ida Noddack proposed
an exception. She anticipated the paradigm shift of 1938/39 in her article
published in the journal Angewandte Chemie, Nr. 47, 1934, in which she
"It is conceivable that when heavy nuclei are bombarded with
neutrons these nuclei could break down into several fairly large
fragments, which are certainly isotopes of known elements, but not
neighbors of the irradiated elements."
But no physicist or chemist really took Noddack's speculation seriously
or tested it, not even Ida Noddack herself. The idea that heavy atomic
nuclei could break down into lighter elements was regarded as totally

Otto Hahn, 1938

Between 1934 and 1938, Hahn, Meitner, and Strassmann found a great number of radioactive transmutation
products, all of which they regarded as transuranic.[16] At that time the existence of actinides was not yet
established, and uranium was wrongly believed to be a group 6 element similar to tungsten. It followed that first
transuranic elements would be similar to group 7 to 10 elements, i.e. rhenium and platinoids. The Hahn group
established the presence of multiple isotopes of at least four such elements, and (mistakenly) identify them as
elements with atomic numbers 93 through 96. They were the first scientists to measure the half-life of 239U and
to establish chemically that it was an isotope of uranium, but they were unable to continue this work to its
logical conclusion and identify the decay product of 239U namely, neptunium (the real element 93); this task
was only completed by Edwin McMillan and Philip H. Abelson in 1940.
On 13 July 1938, with the help and support of Hahn, Lise Meitner born into a Jewish family escaped to the
Netherlands;[17] before she left, Hahn gave her a diamond ring he had inherited from his mother, to be used to
bribe the frontier guards if required. Meitner emigrated to Stockholm, and Hahn continued to work with
Strassmann. In late 1938 they found evidence of isotopes of an alkaline earth metal in their sample. The metal
was detected by the use of an organic barium salt constructed by Wilhelm Traube. Finding a group 2 alkaline
earth metal was problematic, because it did not logically fit with the other elements found thus far. Hahn initially
suspected it to be radium, produced by splitting off two alpha-particles from the uranium nucleus. At the time,

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the scientific consensus was that even splitting off two alpha particles via
this process was unlikely. The idea of turning uranium into barium (by
removing around 100 nucleons) was seen as preposterous. On 10
November during a visit to Copenhagen, where he was invited to lecture
in Bohr's Institute, Hahn discussed these results with Niels Bohr, Lise
Meitner, and Otto Robert Frisch.[17] Further refinements of the
technique, leading to the decisive experiment on 1617 December 1938
(the celebrated "radium-barium-mesothorium-fractionation"), produced
puzzling results: the three isotopes consistently behaved not as radium,
but as barium. Hahn, who did not inform the physicists in his Institute,
described the results exclusively in a letter to Meitner on 19 December:
"...we are more and more coming to the awful conclusion that our Ra
isotopes behave not like Ra, but like Ba. ... Perhaps you can suggest
some fantastic explanation. We ourselves realize that it can't really burst
into Ba."[18] In her reply, Meitner concurred that Hahn's conclusion of
the bursting of the uranium nucleus was very difficult to accept, but
considered it possible.
On 22 December 1938, Hahn sent a manuscript to Naturwissenschaften
reporting their radiochemical results, which were published on 6 January
1939.[19] On 27 December, Hahn telephoned the editor of
Naturwissenschaften and requested to add a paragraph to the article,
speculating that some platinum group elements previously observed in
irradiated uranium, which were originally interpreted as transuranium
elements, could in fact be technetium (then called "masurium") and
lower platinum-group metals (atomic numbers 43 through 46). By
January 1939 he was sufficiently convinced that formation of light
elements was occurring in his setup that he published a new revision of
the article, essentially retracting former claims of observing transuranic
elements and neighbors of uranium, and concluding instead that he was
seeing light platinoids, barium, lanthanum, and cerium.


Nuclear fission experimental setup,

reconstructed at the Deutsches
Museum, Munich.

Otto Hahn's notebook

Fritz Strassmann recollects:[20]

"The significance accorded to the outcome from the
scientific point of view becomes clear when one reads in the
first publication of nuclear fission that Professor Hahn, who
had over 30 years of practical and theoretical experience in
the sphere of radioactivity and whose judgement
unquestionably commanded the greatest weight among
fellow scientists both in Germany and the whole world,
announced the new discovery only hesitatingly. The
radiochemical methods he applied, which were partly
developed by him, tested out hundreds of times in the course
of 30 years and found to be reliable, did not permit any
doubt about the finding."

Plaque commemorating the discovery

of fission in Berlin (unveiled 1956)

As a chemist, Hahn was reluctant to propose a revolutionary discovery in physics,[16] but Lise Meitner and her

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nephew, the young physicist Otto Robert Frisch, in Sweden, came to the same conclusion (a bursting) as Hahn
and were able, because they had a lead of time, to work out the first theoretical interpretation of nuclear fission
the term that was coined by Frisch, and which subsequently became internationally known. Over the next few
months, Frisch and Meitner published two articles discussing and experimentally confirming this hypothesis.

In a later appreciation (1963), Lise Meitner wrote:[4]

"The discovery of nuclear fission by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann opened up a new era in
human history. It seems to me that what makes the science behind this discovery so remarkable is
that it was achieved by purely chemical means."
And in an interview on West German television (ARD, 8 March 1959), Meitner said:[4]
"Hahn and Strassmann were able to do this by exceptionally good chemistry, fantastically good
chemistry, which was way ahead of what anyone else was capable of at that time. The Americans
learned to do it later. But at that time, Hahn and Strassmann were really the only ones who could do
it. And that was because they were such good chemists. Somehow they really succeeded in using
chemistry to demonstrate and prove a physical process."
In the same interview Fritz Strassmann responded with this clarification:[4]
"Professor Meitner stated that the success could be attributed to chemistry. I have to make a slight
correction. Chemistry merely isolated the individual substances, it did not precisely identify them. It
took Professor Hahn's method to do this. This is where his achievement lies."
And James Chadwick wrote in a preface:[23]
"This exciting discovery of the 'bursting' or 'fission' of uranium owed, to my mind, as much to the
character of Hahn as to his great competence as a radiochemist. In all his scientific work one sees
his untiring determination to get to the bottom of his problems, his refusal to be satisfied with less
than as complete a knowledge as possible of the facts, followed by his acceptance of these facts,
however unexspected they might be. [...] This discovery was the crowning achievement of more than
thirty years of research in the subject of radioactivity, during which his many outstanding
contributions had already brought him a high reputation."
In their second publication on nuclear fission (Die Naturwissenschaften, 10 February 1939) Otto Hahn and Fritz
Strassmann used for the first time the term Uranspaltung (uranium fission), and predicted the existence and
liberation of additional neutrons during the fission process, which was proved to be a chain reaction by Frdric
Joliot and his team in March 1939.
Rudolf Ladenburg, migr physicist at Princeton University (Palmer Laboratory) wrote to Hahn on February 22,

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"Your discovery has caused a huge sensation in the whole scientific world, and every laboratory
which has the necessary means is now working on the consequences of your discovery."
During the war, Otto Hahn together with his assistants Hans-Joachim Born, Siegfried Flgge, Hans Gtte,
Walter Seelmann-Eggebert, and Fritz Strassmann worked on uranium fission reactions. By 1945 he had drawn
up a list of 25 elements and about 100 isotopes whose existence he had demonstrated.

Internment in England (1945)

Otto Hahn, Farm Hall,


At the end of World War II in 1945 Hahn

was suspected of working on the German
nuclear energy project to develop an atomic
reactor or an atomic bomb, but his only
connection was the discovery of fission; he
did not work on the program. In April 1945,
Hahn and nine leading German physicists
(including Max von Laue, Werner
Heisenberg, and Carl Friedrich von
Weizscker) were taken into custody by the
Alsos Mission (see Operation Epsilon) and
interned at Farm Hall, Godmanchester, near
Cambridge, England, from 3 July 1945 to 3
January 1946. The chief officer, Major
Terence H. Rittner informed the authorities
about his prisoners. He described Hahn as

Hiroshima after the bombing on

August 6, 1945

"A man of the world. He has been the most helpful of the
professors and his sense of humour and common sense has
saved the day on many occasions. He is definitely friendly
disposed to England and America."[25]
In Farm Hall the German scientists learned of the dropping of the atom
bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the American airforce on 6 and 9
August 1945. Otto Hahn was on the brink of despair.
The historian Lawrence Badash (from the University of California at
Santa Barbara) wrote in his essay:[26]

The bomb over Nagasaki on August

9, 1945

"Hahn had been the first informed about Hiroshima on

August 6, 1945, by the British officer in charge at Farm
Hall. The news completely shattered him, for he felt that
his discovery of fission had made construction of the
atomic bomb possible, and that he was thus personally
responsible for the thousands of deaths in Japan. Long
before, he had contemplated suicide, when he first

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recognized the possible military use of fission; now, with the blame of its realization drawn
squarely upon his shoulders, suicide again seemed a way to escape his desolation. Fearing this,
Max von Laue remained with him until he passed this personal crisis. Never has social
responsibility hit a scientist with such impact."
On January 3, 1946, the group was allowed to return to Germany, and Hahn, Heisenberg, and von Laue were
brought to the city of Gttingen, which was controlled by the British occupation authorities.

The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1944

On 15 November 1945 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that Hahn had been awarded the
1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his discovery of the fission of heavy atomic nuclei."[2][27][28] Some
US-American historians have documented their view of the discovery of nuclear fission and believe Meitner
should have been awarded the Nobel Prize with Hahn.[29][30][31] Hahn was still being detained at Farm Hall
when the announcement was made; thus, his whereabouts were a secret, and it was impossible for the Nobel
committee to send him a congratulatory telegram. Instead, he learned about his award through the Daily
Telegraph newspaper.[32] His fellow interned German scientists celebrated his award on 18 November by giving
speeches, making jokes, and composing songs.[33] On 4 December, Hahn was persuaded by two of his captors to
write a letter to the Nobel committee accepting the prize but also stating that he would not be able to attend the
award ceremony.[34] He could not participate in the Nobel festivities on 10 December since his captors would
not allow him to leave Farm Hall.
"Surely Hahn fully deserved the Nobel Prize in chemistry. There is really no doubt about it. But I
believe that Otto Robert Frisch and I contributed something not insignificant to the clarification of
the process of uranium fission how it originates and that it produces so much energy, and that was
something very remote from Hahn."
wrote Lise Meitner to her friend B. Broom-Aminoff on November 20, 1945.[35] And Meitner's former assistant
Carl Friedrich von Weizscker later added:
"He certainly did deserve this Nobel Prize. He would have deserved it even if he had not made this
discovery. But everyone recognized that the splitting of the atomic nucleus merited a Nobel
The radiochemist and Jewish migr Elizabeth Rona (later a Professor of Chemistry in Miami) wrote in her
"I often thought, that he would have deserved a second Nobel Prize - the Nobel Prize for peace."
Hahn attended the Nobel festivities the year after he was awarded the prize. On 10 December 1946, King Gustav
V of Sweden presented him with his Nobel Prize medal and diploma.[28]
The chemist and science historian Klaus Hoffmann wrote in his biography (translated by J. Michael Cole,

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Leyburn, UK):[37]
"Uranium fission is exclusively chemical, and had not been
proved physically, and, to be precise, had been demonstrated
by Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann alone. Lise Meitner had
repeatedly conceded and emphasised the recognition of the
achievement of these two, and that the chemical proof of the
physics effect of uranium fission could have been carried out
by no other research team in the world in 1938. [...] In the
radiochemical analytical work in the second half of the year
of 1938, which immediately led to the proof of the fission of
the nucleus, the absent Lise Meitner had no part at all.

Otto Hahn stamp, Germany 1979.

Doubtless Meitner and Frisch, but not Hahn's lady

colleague alone, had merit in the interpretation of the results
obtained by Hahn and Strassmann with regard to the
physical character of the nuclear fission. But they did not
gain these laurels, because in January 1939 they were the
only ones in the world who were qualified in that area.
Rather was it through the unqualified revelation by Hahn of
his results that they had a lead in time over others. As the
subsequent events confirmed, they arrived at the same
results. [...]
Once again - the Nobel Prize for Chemistry of 1944 was
awarded for the fission of the atomic nucleus of uranium, a
discovery which no physicist, including Lise Meitner, had
deliberately investigated, because it had not been held to be
possible. - The reproaches against Hahn that he alone had
been nominated for the Nobel Prize and that he alone had
received it are just as mistaken - as if Hahn could have done
anything about this decoration finally becoming a reality,
after he had been nominated for it for over twenty years.
[...] - But of course the Nobel Committee took into account
in its decision that Hahn had many times been in the arena
as a candidate for the Nobel Prize because of his
performance beforehand, whereas Strassmann had not been
at all."
Otto Hahn had been nominated 22 times for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry from 1914 to 1945, and 16 times for
the Nobel Prize in Physics from 1937 to 1947.[38]
In 1951 Samuel C. Lind, the eminent American radiation scientist from the University of Minnesota in
Minneapolis, wrote in a review:
"No living man has so successfully spanned the world of discovery from radiothorium to fission, one
of the greatest - if not the greatest - discovery of all time."[39]

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Founder and President of the Max Planck Society

From 1948 to 1960 Otto Hahn was the founding President of the newly
formed Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science, which
through his tireless activity and his worldwide respected personality
succeeded in regaining the renown once enjoyed by the Kaiser Wilhelm
Lawrence Badash wrote:
"Hahn learned while still interned at Farm Hall that he was
awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery of
fission. This added prominence to his already distinguished
career, and his wartime anti-Nazi stance made him all the
more acceptable to the Allied occupation authorities. Thus,
he became the leading figure in the resurrection of German
science after the war, an elder statesman who held the
confidence of the various factions. In his position as
president, he was particularly successful in rebuilding the
Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the parent body of the institutes,
which was renamed the Max Planck Society."[26]
And Sir James Chadwick noted:

Monument in Berlin-Dahlem, in front

of the Otto-Hahn-Platz

"Hahn had accepted this onerous office with much

misgiving. He was, however, a happy choice; not so much
because of his political record or his scientific eminence, but
because of his character - he had an honesty and integrity
which commanded the respect and trust of all. He took the
leading part in the re-establishment of science in West
Germany and, when he retired from his office in 1960, he
could look back with pride on a remarkable

Spokesman for social responsibility

Immediately after the Second World War, Hahn reacted to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and
Nagasaki by coming out strongly against the use of nuclear energy for military purposes. He saw the application
of his scientific discoveries to such ends as a misuse, or even a crime.
"His wartime recognition of the perversion of science for the construction of weapons and his
postwar activity in planning the direction of his country's scientific endeavours now inclined him
increasingly toward being a spokesman for social responsibility."[41]

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In early 1954 he wrote an article "Cobalt 60 - Danger or Blessing for Mankind?" about the misuse of atomic
energy, which was widely reprinted and transmitted in the radio in Germany, Norway, Austria, and Denmark,
and in an English version worldwide via the BBC. The international reaction was encouraging.
The next year Hahn initiated and organized the Mainau Declaration of 1955, in which he and a number of
international Nobel Prize-winners called attention to the dangers of atomic weapons and warned the nations of
the world urgently against the use of "force as a final resort", and which was issued a week after the similar
Russell-Einstein Manifesto. In 1956 Hahn repeated his appeal with the signature of 52 of his Nobel colleagues
from all parts of the world.
He was also instrumental in and one of the authors of the Gttingen Manifesto of April 13, 1957, in which,
together with 17 leading German atomic scientists, he protested against a proposed nuclear arming of the new
West German armed forces (Bundeswehr).
On November 13, 1957, in the 'Konzerthaus' (Concerto Hall) in Vienna, Hahn warned in his Vienna Appeal of
the "dangers of A- and H-bomb-experiments", and declared that "today war is no means of politics anymore - it
will only destroy all countries in the world". His highly acclaimed speech was transmitted internationally by the
Austrian radio, sterreichischer Rundfunk (R). On December 28, 1957, Hahn repeated his appeal in an
English translation for the Bulgarian Radio in Sofia, which was broadcast in all Warsaw pact states.[42]
In January 1958, Otto Hahn, together with his friend Albert Schweitzer signed the Pauling Appeal to the United
Nations in New York for the "immediate conclusion of an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear
weapons" and, in October, together with Clement Attlee, Edgar Faure, Tetsu Katayama, et al. he signed the
international "Agreement to call a meeting to draw up a world constitution".
Since 1958 Hahn was sending messages to the annual conferences of the recently founded "Japan Council
Against A and H Bombs" in Tokyo. In 1960, for instance, he wrote to president Koshiro Okakura:
"As I have often emphasized on official occasions and in my lectures, I consider the manufacturing
of A and H bombs a great danger to mankind, especially when small countries, one after another,
wish to produce them, too. It would be satisfactory if the USA and Britain on one hand and the
Soviet Union on the other be neutralized by the possession of those bombs.
We must reach an agreement through negotiations with these 'A-bomb-manufacturing nations', and
even after that I am against any further increasing of A bombs and support all that is opposed to the
expansion of them. - I wish a full success to the Japan Council Against A and H Bombs."[43]
In 1959 Hahn co-founded in Berlin the Federation of German Scientists (VDW), a non-governmental
organization, which has been committed to the ideal of responsible science. The members of the Federation feel
committed to taking into consideration the possible military, political, and economical implications and
possibilities of atomic misuse when carrying out their scientific research and teaching. With the results of its
interdisciplinary work the 'VDW' not only addresses the general public, but also the decision-makers at all levels
of politics and society.
Right up to his death, Otto Hahn never tired of warning urgently of the dangers of the nuclear arms race between
the great powers and of the radioactive contamination of the planet.[44]
The philosopher Sir Karl R. Popper wrote in his last book:

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"Ever since my early youth, I have admired Otto Hahn as a scientist and a human being. The reason
for Hahn's peace work was simply that, knowing more than other citizens about atomic weapons, he
felt it his duty to speak about this issue that was so crucial for mankind. He could make things clear,
he had to use his knowledge. And it is why Otto Hahn, with atomic weapons in mind, wrote shortly
before his death of the necessity of world peace." [45]
The historian Lawrence Badash analysed:
"Otto Hahn is widely portrayed as a warm, considerate, charming person. The characterization is
accurate. In fact, precisely because the personality of this decent human being suffered no great
changes throughout his career, he offers us a touchstone to determined the extent of changes in
scientists' perceptions of their obligations to society during the twentieth century. [...]
The important thing is not that scientists may disagree on where their responsibility to society lies,
but that they are conscious that a responsibility exists, are vocal about it, and when they speak out
they expect to affect policy. Otto Hahn, it would seem, was even more than just an example of this
twentieth-century conceptual evolution; he was a leader in the process." [46]
From 1957, Hahn was repeatedly nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by a number of international
organizations, including the largest French trade union, the Confederation Generale du Travail (CGT). - Linus
Pauling, the 1962 Nobel Peace laureate, once described Otto Hahn as "an inspiration to me." [4]

Honors and awards

During his lifetime Hahn was awarded orders, medals, scientific prizes,
and fellowships of Academies, Societies, and Institutions from all over
the world. A selection:
Iron Cross, 1st and 2nd class, German Empire (1915)
General Honor Decoration (Hesse), German Empire (1916)
Knight of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern, Kingdom of
Prussia (1917)
Officer of the Albert Order, Kingdom of Saxony (1917)
Otto Hahn aboard the MS Dsseldorf,

numerous honorary degrees and was elected member or honorary

June 1965
member of 45 Academies and scientific societies (among them the
University of Cambridge, the Physical Society, the University
College and the Royal Society in London,[1] the Romanian Physical Society in Bucharest, the Royal
Spanish Society for Chemistry and Physics in Madrid, the CSIC in Madrid, and the Academies in
Allahabad (India), Bangalore (India), Berlin, Boston (USA), Bucharest, Copenhagen, Gttingen, Halle,
Helsinki, Lisbon, Madrid, Mainz, Munich, Rome, Stockholm, Vatican, and Vienna). Hahn was, too, an
honorary member of the German Physical Society (DPG), the Society of German Chemists (GDCh), and
the German Bunsen-Society of Physical Chemistry.

37 of the highest national and international orders and medals, among them the Gold Medals Emil Fischer,
Cannizzaro, Copernicus, Henri Becquerel, Paracelsus, Fritz Haber, Marie Curie, Cothenius, Senckenberg,
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Theodor Goldschmidt, Heraeus, and Hugo Grotius, the Max

Planck medal, the Faraday Lectureship Prize with Medal from the
Royal Society of Chemistry in London, the Exner-Medal in
Vienna, the Harnack medal in Gold from the Max Planck Society,
and the Gold Medal of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences from
Pope John XXIII in the Vatican.
Officer of the Order for Cultural Merit, Kingdom of Romania
Knight of the Peace Class of the Order Pour le Mrite, Federal
Republic of Germany (1952)
Grand Cross with star and sash of the Order of Merit of the
Federal Republic of Germany (1954)
Gold Cross of the Order of the Redeemer, Kingdom of Greece
Elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in
Hahn's grave in Gttingen
Honorary Officer of the Order of the British Empire, United
Kingdom (1957)
Gold Cross of the Order Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, Holy See (1957)
Officer of the Order of Leopold, Kingdom of Belgium (1958)
Officer of the 'Ordre National de la Lgion d'Honneur', Republic of France (1959)
Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1959)
In 1957 Hahn was elected an honorary citizen of the city of Magdeburg, DDR (German Democratic Republic)
and, in 1958, an honorary member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (today Russian Academy of
Sciences) in Moscow, but he declined both honors.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson of the USA and the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in
Washington awarded Hahn (together with Lise Meitner and Fritz Strassmann) the Enrico Fermi Award (with a
gold medal and citation). The diploma for Hahn bears the words:
"For pioneering research in the naturally occurring radioactivities and extensive experimental
studies culminating in the discovery of fission.[47]
Hahn, since 1960 honorary president of the MPG, was made an honorary citizen of the cities of Frankfurt am
Main and Gttingen in 1959, and of the land and the city of Berlin in 1968. The British physicist Robert Spence
FRS, concluded in his essay:
It was remarkable, how, after the war, this rather unassuming scientist who had spent a lifetime in
the laboratory, became an effective administrator and an important public figure in Germany.
Hahn, famous as the discoverer of nuclear fission, was respected and trusted for his human
qualities, simplicity of manner, transparent honesty, common sense, and loyalty.[48]
Otto Hahn died on 28 July 1968. The day after his death the Max Planck Society published the following
obituary notice in all the major newspapers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland: [49]

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On 28 July, in his 90th year, our Honorary President Otto Hahn passed away. His name will be
recorded in the history of humanity as the founder of the atomic age. In him Germany and the world
have lost a scholar who was distinguished in equal measure by his integrity and personal humility.
The Max Planck Society mourns its founder, who continued the tasks and traditions of the Kaiser
Wilhelm Society after the war, and mourns also a good and much loved human being, who will live
in the memories of all who had the chance to meet him. His work will continue. We remember him
with deep gratitude and admiration.
Fritz Strassmann, Hahn's pupil and assistant, wrote:[50]
The number of those who had been able to be near Otto Hahn is small. His behaviour was
completely natural for him, but for the next generations he will serve as a model, regardless of
whether one admires in the attitude of Otto Hahn his humane and scientific sense of responsibility
or his personal courage.
Otto Robert Frisch, Lise Meitner's nephew, recollected:[51]
Hahn remained modest and informal all his life. His disarming frankness, unfailing kindness, good
common sense, and impish humour will be remembered by his many friends all over the world.
And the Royal Society in London wrote in an obituary:[52]
Otto Hahn's achievements are known universally and will hold a special place in the history of
science. He is remembered too for his whole character, his generosity of spirit, his belief in the
proper use of scientific discovery, and for his humanity.

Hahn's death did not stop his
public acclamation. Proposals
were made at different times, first
in 1971 by American chemists,
that the newly synthesized
element no. 105 should be named
hahnium in Hahn's honor; in
1997 the IUPAC (International
Union of Pure and Applied
Otto Hahn on a stamp of the German
Chemistry) named it dubnium,
Democratic Republic, 1979
Hahn monument at the site of his
after the Russian research center
birthplace in Frankfurt
in Dubna (see element naming
controversy). Although element 108 was given the name hassium by its
officially-recognized German discoverers in 1992, a 1994 IUPAC committee recommended that it be named
hahnium (Hn),[53] in spite of the long-standing convention to give the discoverer the right to suggest a name.
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This recommendation was not

adopted, following protests from
the German discoverers, and the
name hassium (Hs) was adopted
internationally in 1997.[54]
In 1964 the only European
nuclear-powered civilian ship, the
freighter NS Otto Hahn, was
named in his honor. In 1959 there
were the opening ceremonies of
5 Mark coin, honoring Otto Hahn and
the Otto Hahn Institute in Mainz
his discovery of nuclear fission.
and the Hahn-Meitner-Institut for
Federal Republic of Germany, 1979
Nuclear Research (HMI) in
Berlin. There are craters on Mars
and the Moon, and the asteroids No. 3676 Hahn and No. 19126
Bust by Knud Knudsen
Ottohahn named in his honor, as were the Otto Hahn Prize of both the
German Chemical and Physical Societies and the city of Frankfurt/Main,
the Otto Hahn Medal, and the Otto Hahn Award of the Max Planck Society and, since 1988, the Otto Hahn
Peace Medal in Gold of the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin.
Many cities and districts in the German-speaking countries have named
secondary schools after him, and streets, squares, and bridges throughout
Europe bear his name. More than twenty states worldwide have honored
Otto Hahn by issuing coins, medals or stamps with his portrait. An island
in the Antarctic (near Mt. Discovery) was also named after him, as were
two Intercity trains Otto Hahn of the German Federal Railways in 1971,
running between Hamburg and Basel SBB, and the Otto Hahn Library in
Gttingen. In 1974, in appreciation of the special contribution of Otto
Hahn to German-Israeli relations, a wing of the Weizmann Institute of
Science in Rehovot, Israel, was given his name, and a scientific research
center of the Saint Louis University (Baguio) (Philippines) was named
the Otto Hahn Building.
In several cities and districts Otto Hahn busts, monuments, and memorial
plaques were unveiled, including in Vienna in the foyer of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). There are public Otto
Hahn Centers in Gttingen and Ottobrunn (near Munich), and planned in
Caricature by Gheorghe Manu,
the near future also in Hahn's native city Frankfurt/Main, while in 2011
the city of Albstadt created an Otto Hahn Memorial place in her local
IHK-Academy, focussed on Hahn's work in Tailfingen at the end of
World War II. In early 2014, the University of Dortmund opened two new Otto Hahn Libraries in her General
University Library, which are specialized in the natural sciences and technologies.
At the end of 1999, the German news magazine Focus published an inquiry of 500 leading natural scientists,
engineers, and physicians about the most important scientists of the 20th century. In this poll the experimental
chemist Otto Hahn after the theoretical physicists Albert Einstein and Max Planck was elected third (with 81
points), and thus the most significant empiric researcher of his time.[55]

Publications in English
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1936. Applied Radiochemistry. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York 1936. Humphrey Milford,
London 1936. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1936.
1950. New Atoms Progress and some memories. Edited by W. Gaade. Elsevier Inc., New
1966. A Scientific Autobiography. Introduction by Glenn T. Seaborg. Translated and edited by Willy Ley.
Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. British edition: McGibbon and Kee, London 1967.
1970. My Life. Preface by Sir James Chadwick. Translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins.
Macdonald & Co., London. American edition: Herder and Herder, New York 1970.

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