Otto Hahn

HIs Role in the Development of Nuclear Chemistry

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Otto Hahn, also known as “the father of nuclear chemistry,” was born in Germany in March of 1879 ("Otto Hahn"). Throughout Hahn’s primary and secondary education, he was very interested in chemistry. He eventually began studying chemistry at the University of Marburg in 1897 and then at the University of Munich, later receiving his doctorate in 1901. After serving in the military for some time, Hahn began working at the Chemical Institute at Marburg in 1904 under the direction of William Ramsay in London’s University College. During Hahn’s time here, he discovered a radioactive isotope of thorium, known as radiothorium. Thorium isotopes like this have proven to be useful for radiation treatment. While at McGill University in Montreal beginning in 1905, Canada, Hahn continued his studies in chemistry with Ernest Rutherford, and he discovered yet another radioactive isotope known as radioactinium. He spent much of his time studying these two discovered isotopes and their alpha rays with Rutherford.
In the following year, Hahn began working at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlen, where he was the administrator of the radiochemistry department, and in 1907, Hahn discovered another isotope known as mesothorium. Later that year, Otto Hahn began to work with Lise Meitner on studies involving beta radiation, the discovery of radioactive recoil, and the magnetic spectrum. Beginning in 1914, Hahn had to continue his service in the military during the Great War, but he returned to his studies soon afterward. In 1918, he then discovered protactinium and eventually uranium Z. At this point, as “all the natural radioactive elements had then been discovered,” Hahn continued on studying how to apply such chemical properties to widespread problems (Spence). Hahn’s studies furthered even more as he returned to his research partnership with Lise Meitner and also began a partnership with Dr. Fritz Strassmann in the irradiation of different elements. In his collaboration with Meitner, the two even discovered an artificial isotope of uranium.
Furthermore, in the 1930s, Otto Hahn was one of the first chemists to determine Uranium’s half-life. One of Hahn’s most significant contributions to nuclear chemistry, however, was his discovery of nuclear fission in 1938. With knowledge that many radioactive particles are emitted from the bombardment between uranium and neutrons, he desired extending this study. During his research with Dr. Strassman, he “discovered the fission of uranium and thorium” in certain nuclei after seeing that, specifically, the uranium atom had split into two parts through nuclear fission (“Otto Hahn - Biographical”). This discovery would then lead to the development of the atomic bomb. After making this discovery, Hahn continued his work in the study of fission and nuclear chemistry, eventually being admitted into several prestigious science academies, receiving the Nobel Prize in 1944 for his discovery of nuclear fission, becoming the Kaiser Wilhelm Society’s President in 1946, and being honored as the Max Planck Society’s President in 1948. Once World War II had ended, Hahn continued his involvement in chemistry be opposing “the use of nuclear weapons” (Pettinger). Otto Hahn then died in 1968, leaving both his wife and son behind.
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