Article ID: CBB001024701

The History of the Discovery of Nuclear Fission (2011)


Following with the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson at the end of the nineteenth century a steady elucidation of the structure of the atom occurred over the next 40 years culminating in the discovery of nuclear fission in 1938--1939. The significant steps after the electron discovery were: discovery of the nuclear atom by Rutherford (Philos Mag 6th Ser 21:669--688, 1911), the transformation of elements by Rutherford (Philos Mag 37:578--587, 1919), discovery of artificial radioactivity by Joliot-Curie and Joliot-Curie (Comptes Rendus Acad Sci Paris 198:254--256, 1934), and the discovery of the neutron by Chadwick (Nature 129:312, 1932a, Proc R Soc Ser A 136:692--708, 1932b; Proc R Soc Lond Ser A 136:744--748, 1932c). The neutron furnished scientists with a particle able to penetrate atomic nuclei without expenditure of large amounts of energy. From 1934 until 1938--1939 investigations of the reaction between a neutron and uranium were carried out by E. Fermi in Rome, O. Hahn, L. Meitner and F. Strassmann in Berlin and I. Curie and P. Savitch in Paris. Results were interpreted as the formation of transuranic elements. After sorting out complex radio-chemistry and radio-physics O. Hahn and F. Strassmann came to the conclusion, beyond their belief, that the uranium nucleus split into smaller fragments, that is nuclear fission. This was soon followed in 1939 by its theoretical interpretation by L. Mietner and O. Frisch. Keywords Electron -- Atom -- Nucleus -- Artificial radioactivity -- Neutron -- Transuranics -- Nuclear fission

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Authors & Contributors
Sime, Ruth Lewin
Blum, Alexander
Zeldes, Nissan
Zangwill, Andrew
Walker, Mark
Simões, Ana I.
Physics in Perspective
Archive for History of Exact Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part B: Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics
European Physical Journal H
TLS: Times Literary Supplement
Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology
Oxford University Press
Luigi Pellegrini Editore
Wallstein Verlag
Palgrave Macmillan
Atomic, nuclear, and particle physics
Theoretical physics
Nuclear fission
Quantum mechanics
Fermi, Enrico
Pauli, Wolfgang Ernst
Meitner, Lise
Hahn, Otto
Einstein, Albert
Bohr, Niels Henrik David
Time Periods
20th century, early
20th century
20th century, late
21st century
19th century
United States
Universidade de Lisboa
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)
Carnegie Institute of Technology
Niels Bohr Institutet, Copenhagen
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Chemie

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