A Nobel Tale of Postwar Injustice
In November 1945, three months after the end of World War II, a narrow majority of the members of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Otto Hahn for the discovery of nuclear fission. The award was and still remains controversial, primarily because Hahn's Berlin colleagues, the chemist Fritz Strassmann and the physicist Lise Meitner, were not included. Probably, Strassmann was ignored because he was not a senior scientist. Meitner's exclusion, however, points to other flaws in the decision process, and to four factors in particular: the difficulty of evaluating an interdisciplinary discovery, a lack of expertise in theoretical physics, Sweden's scientific and political isolation during the war, and a general failure of the evaluation committees to appreciate the extent to which German persecution of Jews skewed the published scientific record. Recently released Swedish documents reveal why Lise Meitner, codiscoverer of nuclear fission, did not receive the 1946 physics prize for her theoretical interpretation of the process.