The fascinating, little-known story of how two brilliant female physicists’ groundbreaking discoveries led to the creation of the atomic bomb.
In 1934, Irène Curie, working with her husband and fellow scientist, Frederic Joliot, made a discovery that would change the world: artificial radioactivity. This breakthrough allowed scientists to modify elements and create new ones by altering the structure of atoms. Curie shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their work. But when she was nominated to the French Academy of Sciences, the academy denied her admission and voted to disqualify all women from membership. Four years later, Curie’s breakthrough led physicist Lise Meitner to a brilliant leap of understanding that unlocked the secret of nuclear fission. Meitner’s unique insight was critical to the revolution in science that led to nuclear energy and the race to build the atom bomb, yet her achievement was left unrecognized by the Nobel committee in favor of that of her male colleague.
Radioactive! presents the story of two women breaking ground in a male-dominated field, scientists still largely unknown despite their crucial contributions to cutting-edge research, in a nonfiction narrative that reads with the suspense of a thriller. Photographs and sidebars illuminate and clarify the science in the book.
In this thorough and clear dual biography, Conkling (Passenger on the Pearl) profiles two 20th-century scientists whose contributions facilitated the creation of the atomic bomb to their horror. Though Lise Meitner (1878 1968) and Ir ne Curie (1897 1956) shared an idealistic and passionate devotion to physics, they were often rivals and never worked collaboratively. Austrian-born Meitner, highly regarded throughout the 1930s for her meticulous experiment designs, outright disputed early results presented by Curie, daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie, and her husband; her dismissal allowed the Curies to create the first manmade radioactive elements themselves, leading to a shared Nobel Prize in 1935. Only three years later, Meitner's explanation of nuclear fission set the stage for the atomic age. Both highly educated women struggled against chauvinist attitudes: Curie's efforts to join the French Academy of Science were repeatedly turned down, while Meitner never received a Nobel Prize despite 15 nominations. Conkling successfully redresses that lack of recognition here. A glossary, time line, and extensive "Who's Who" section provide additional context, along with explanatory sidebars and b&w photos. Ages 12 up.