Otto Hahn a German chemist was one of the first scientists to break new ground in the field of radioactivity and radiochemistry. He won the Nobel Prize in 1944 for his discovery of nuclear fission. Due to his work he is often called 'the father of nuclear chemistry' and the 'founder of the atomic age'.
Early years and education
Hahn was born in Frankfurt am Main on March 8th, 1879. His father was a well-off glazier and entrepreneur. At the early age of 15 years, he started with simple experiments in chemistry. Otto's father hoped that his son would become an architect but his son convinced him that he was more interested in chemistry.
He obtained his PhD from Marburg and Munich in 1901. After which he changed many universities. Initially he was at the Chemical Institute of Marburg, which was followed by University College in London in 1904, the Physical Institute of McGill University in Montreal in 1905, and then to the Chemical Institute of the University of Berlin.
In 1904 while working under Sir William Ramsay at University College, London; Hahn discovered a substance called radiothorium. After returning to Germany in 1906, Hahn discovered mesothorium. Mesothorium proved very useful over the years because it was perfect to use in medical radiation treatment and it was half the price as compared to radium-226.
During the World War Hahn had to serve in the army, where he was taken under the special unit for chemical warfare. Hahn was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1923.
Discovery of nuclear fission
Hahn along with his pupil Fritz Strassmann conducted a lot of research on the effect of bombardment of neutrons on uranium. In December 1938, Hahn and Strassmann after bombarding uranium sample looking for tranuranium elements in the sample. What they discovered instead was trace amounts of barium. This helped them conclude that the heavy uranium nucleus had burst into smaller atomic nuclei of medium weight. This is how Hahn discovered nuclear fission for which he won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1944.
Honors and awards
Hahn received many honors during his career; he was a member of 45 science societies across the world including, the Royal Society in London, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Lisbon, Madrid, Rome and Stockholm. He received various medals and honors both nationally and internationally including the Golden Paracelsus Medal from the Swiss Chemical Society and the Faraday Medal from the British Chemical Society. In 1959, he was made officer of the Legion d'Honneur by President Charles de Gaulle. He is the only non-American to get awarded the Enrico Fermi Prize.