One of the most famous nuclear physicists and chemists of all time – the Nobel Prize-winning Otto Hahn – was born on this day in Frankfurt am Main. He can be considered one of the fathers of the atomic bomb, since it was he who discovered nuclear fission (splitting atoms). In a 1999 poll, German citizens elected Otto Hahn as the most important German scientist, along with Albert Einstein and Max Planck.
Hahn was born in 1897, the same year as Einstein and Stalin. He grew up in Frankfurt, and was educated as a chemist. Hahn started working in the famous Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute in Belin, one of the most distinguished scientific institutions in the world (it was later renamed the Max Planck Institute, today a widely-recognized name). There Otto Hahn, together with his assistants, discovered the phenomenon of nuclear fission.
It is interesting to note that this discovery was made in Berlin in 1938. Of course, the city was at that time ruled by Adolf Hitler. In fact, only three months after Hahn’s discovery, Hitler ordered plans to be made for the invasion of Poland.
During World War II Otto Hahn worked on splitting uranium atoms in the mentioned Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute. Hitler’s Third Reich had a so-called Uranium Project, which researched the applications of nuclear technology. After the war, the Allies placed Hahn in detention, in order to learn exactly how far had the German nuclear bomb research gone.
It is interesting that Hahn was actually opposed to the use of nuclear energy as a weapon. He also opposed the Nazis. Once he learned about the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, he allegedly felt sorrowful and responsible for the discovery of nuclear fission, which led to the discovery of the atomic bomb. He was later released and cleared of all charges. He was the president of the Max Planck Institute for a long time after the end of the war.