Otto Hahn

Otto Hahn was a German chemist and researcher, who is widely considered to be one of the most influential nuclear chemists in history. He pioneered the fields of radiochemistry and radioactivity. Also known as “the father of nuclear chemistry”, Hahn crusaded against the use of nuclear weapons after World War II. As an influential citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany, he had also strongly opposed Jewish persecution by the Nazis.

Quick facts

FAMOUS AS : Chemist


RELIGION : Lutheranism

BORN ON : 08 March 1879 AD

BIRTHDAY : 8th March


SUN SIGN : Pisces

BORN IN : Frankfurt

DIED ON : 28 July 1968 AD

PLACE OF DEATH : Göttingen

University of Marburg
Humboldt University of Berlin

1944 – Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1954 – Grand Cross 2nd Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
1966 – Enrico Fermi Award – Nuclear fission
1949 – Max Planck Medal

Major Works

      Hahn’s collaboration with Lise Meitner resulted in the discovery of a new element named protactinium. The duo received several nominations for Nobel Prize in Chemistry throughout the 1920s. Later, the ‘International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry’ (IUPAC) confirmed him and Meitner as the discoverers.
      In 1938, he made his greatest discovery: nuclear fission. This discovery would later make atomic bombs possible, and although he was not directly involved with their development, he came to feel guilty about his research’s contribution to these weapons.

Early Life and Education

Hahn was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1879 to a rich entrepreneur named Heinrich Hahn. He developed an interest in chemistry at 15, though his father wanted him to study architecture. He studied chemistry and mineralogy and later received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Marburg in 1901, where also worked for two years as an assistant to his doctoral supervisor Theodor Zincke.


        • He took a position in radiochemistry at the ‘University College London’ in 1904 under Sir William Ramsay, the discoverer of inert gasses. Two years later, he went back to Germany to work at the ‘University of Berlin’ with Emil Fischer, who gave Hahn his own laboratory, where he discovered substances including radium-228 (mesothorium I) and thorium-230 (ionium).
        • He started teaching at the ‘University of Berlin’ in 1907 and met Lise Meitner, a physicist from Austria, with whom he would collaborate throughout his career. During the same time Hahn was considered one of the leading radiochemists in the world, and he was nominated for the Nobel Prize by Adolf von Baeyer.
        • He then worked on explaining the phenomenon of radioactive recoil discovered by Canadian physicist Harriet Brooks.
        • In 1924, he was elected to full membership in the ‘Prussian Academy of Sciences’ after his name was nominated by Albert Einstein, Max Planck, Fritz Haber, Wilhelm Schlenk, and Max von Laue. Later that decade, and for nearly twenty years afterward, he was the director of the prestigious ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’.
        • On December 16 and 17 of 1938, Hahn and his assistant Fritz Strassmann conducted experiments which created nuclear fission. The phenomenon was later explained by Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch.
        • In April 1945, he and nine other German scientists were taken into custody by the Allies and flown to England. The Nobel Prize committee decided to award the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to him, but he was not allowed to travel, hence he could not accept the award personally.
        • After the war, Hahn became a vocal spokesperson for social responsibility, saying that his discoveries should not be put to military use. In 1958, he and Albert Schweizer signed the Pauling Appeal to the United Nations, which called for the ‘immediate conclusion of an international agreement to stop the testing of nuclear weapons.’

Personal Life & Legacy

  • In 1913, he married Edith Junghans, an art student at the Royal Academy of Art in Berlin. Nine years later, he and his wife had their only child, Hanno.
  • He died on July 28, 1968, in Göttingen, Germany, from an accidental fall.
  • There have been numerous times when scientific bodies have tried, unsuccessfully, to name new elements after him.
  • A number of cities and districts in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have named secondary schools after him, and squares, streets, and bridges throughout Europe also have been named after him. More than twenty countries worldwide have issued coins, medals, or stamps bearing his portrait.


Otto Hahn joined the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG) in 1946. He was the last president of the institution. Hahn was also founding president of the Max Planck Society (MPG), where performed his duties from 1948 to 1960.

Hahn died on July 28, 1968. He was 89 years old.

Awards & Achievements


      In 1945, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of nuclear fission. This was likely one of the greatest scientific accomplishments of the 20th century. In total, he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 22 times and for the Nobel Prize in Physics 16 times.
      In 1957, he received the title of the Honorary Officer of the ‘Order of the British Empire’ from the United Kingdom and the ‘Gold Cross of the Order Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice’ from the Holy See.
      Two years later, he received the Officer of the ‘Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur’ from France and the ‘Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit’ from West Germany, in 1959.

In 1966, he received the ‘Enrico Fermi Award’ in the U.S.A. The honor was presented by Lyndon Johnson, President of the United States.

Quotes and Sayings by Otto Hahn

I felt profoundly ashamed, I was very much upset.
I didn’t know the details of the terms of the Convention, but I did know of that prohibition.
First we attacked the Russian soldiers with our gases, and then when we saw the poor fellows lying there, dying slowly, we tried to make breathing easier for them by using our own life-saving devices on them.

Some Unknown Facts About Otto Hahn

  • Otto Hahn was the youngest of four brothers born to Heinrich Hahn, a prosperous businessman.
  • Hahn was interested in chemistry and wanted to become an industrial chemist.
    In 1897 he entered the University of Marburg to study chemistry and mineralogy.
  • In 1901 he received his doctorate from the University of Marburg with his dissertation titled, On Bromine Derivates of isoeugenol.
  • After he finished his mandatory one year of military service, he accepted a post as assistant to his doctoral advisor at Marburg.
  • In 1904 he entered University College of London both to improve his English and to further his ambition to work in industry.
  • He worked under Sir William Ramsay who had discovered inert gases.
  • At University College he worked on radiochemistry and in early 1905 he discovered thorium-228.
  • He originally thought it was a new element and its discovery was to announced to the Royal Society on March 16, 1905.
  • Ramsay recommended Hahn to Ernest Rutherford and from September 1905 until mid-1906 Hahn worked with Rutherford at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
  • While there he discovered polonium-212, lead-210, and thorium-227.
  • In 1906 Hahn returned to Germany to work at the University of Berlin with Emil Fischer.
  • At the University of Berlin he discovered thorium-230 which was stable enough to be used in medical radiation treatment.
  • He was nominated for a Nobel Prize in 1914 for his discoveries.
  • On September 28, 1907 he met Lisa Meitner and they became close friends and collaborators.
  • In 1908 he demonstrated radioactive recoil and correctly identified it as the result of alpha particle emission.
  • In 1920’s he created the field of applied radiochemistry and his textbook on the subject was a major influence on scientists in both nuclear chemistry and nuclear physics.
  • On December 22, 1938 Hahn published his findings that splitting a nucleus created lighter elements which is the first publication of nuclear fission.
  • In 1945 he and several other German scientists was captured by the British and interned for the remainder of the war in Farm Hall near Cambridge.
  • Between 1914 and 1945 he was nominated 22 times for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and from 1937 to 1947 he was nominated 16 times for the Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • On November 15, 1945, The Royal Swedish Academy awarded him the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “his discovery of the fission of heavy atomic nuclei” but he was still a prisoner of war and unable to attend the ceremony.
  • He finally received his medal from King Gustav V of Sweden on December 10, 1946.
  • He campaigned tirelessly against the use of nuclear weapons and wanted his discoveries to be used only for peaceful purposes.

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