‘The amazing story of Lise Meitner’ by Andrew Norman
Pen and Sword Books UK 2021
Dr Arpan K Banerjee
Chair Int Soc Hist Radiology (ISHRAD),
Former Chair Brit Soc Hist Radiology
The name Lise Meitner is not as familiar with the public today as it deserves to be. Albert Einstein considered her to be the German ‘Marie Curie’ and she was one of the brightest female physicists of her era.
This new biography by Andrew Norman tells the tale of this remarkable woman and her eventful life and contributions to physics in an accessible manner for readers of all backgrounds to appreciate.
She was born in Vienna, Austria in 1878 and showed an early passion for science. Meitner studied maths and physics in Vienna University and in 1905 was awarded her physics doctorate being the first female from Vienna to achieve this ( She was only the second woman in the world to obtain a doctorate at a time when the field of science was dominated by men.)
She became interested in radioactivity and initially studied alpha particles.
Meitner moved to Berlin, became friends with Max Planck ( of quantum theory fame ) and collaborated with the chemist Otto Hahn. She continued her work on radiochemistry and isotopes and beta decay and radioactive processes at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, Berlin for 30 years from 1907 and her fruitful collaborations with Hahn and others produced over fifty papers. She discovered the isotope protactinium and worked on the neutron bombardment of uranium. Sadly due to the Nazi persecution of Jews in Germany she emigrated in 1938 to Stockholm, Sweden.
In 1939 she published her mathematical work on nuclear fission in the journal Nature with her nephew Otto Frisch ( later to prove important in the development of the atom bomb) but in 1944 it was Hahn who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this with her contribution not acknowledged by the Nobel committee. Interestingly she was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Physics on numerous occasions from 1939 onwards but was unsuccessful in obtaining one.
In later life this injustice was partly rectified by being awarded the Fermi Prize in 1966 and she went on to receive numerous honorary degrees and other awards including the Max Planck medal , Otto Hahn prize, membership of the Swedish Academy of Sciences and foreign membership of the Royal Society, London. She was an excellent ambassador for women in science and continued to encourage women to enter these fields well into her 80’s. She spent her final retirement years in Cambridge, UK passing away in 1968. The element meitnerium was named after her in her honour.
This superb biography of an outstanding scientist is well written with black and white illustrations and an index and serves to remind us all of her remarkable life lived with honesty, integrity and dignity as well as her numerous scientific achievements. The characters portrayed in the book and her collaborators and scientific contemporaries are a who’s who of important scientists of the first half of the twentieth century and reading this book was an informative, humbling and inspiring experience.
Gaston Contremoulins 1869-1950 Visionary Pioneer of Radiology by Patrick Mornet
EDP sciences, France 2019 p188
Reviewed by Dr Arpan K Banerjee Chair Int Soc Hist Radiology (ISHRAD) , Past Chair and current trustee Brit Soc Hist Radiology (BSHR)
The name Gaston Contremoulins is probably unfamiliar to most radiologists even in his native country of France.
In this brilliant biography by Dr Patrick Mornet ( translated from French to English by Prof Giller) readers are reminded of all the major contributions made by this remarkable self-taught genius who was not a qualified doctor, and despite the prejudice and opposition that he faced throughout his career went on to make major scientific contributions to his chosen field of radiography.
Contremoulins started off trying to pursue a career in art but soon realised that his talents would not enable him to make a mark in this field. He then began to develop an interest in photography and obtained employment in the microphotography laboratory in Paris working with the professors of pathology and histology and anatomy. He came to the attention of Professor Marey and joined the physiological laboratory of the Institute of France. He became proficient in physics, mathematics, geometry as well as anatomy and physiology and photography and this placed him in good stead when Rontgen made his discovery of x-rays in 1895. Contremoulins became fascinated by X-rays and very quickly decided to make this his life’s work. His skills enabled him to develop techniques for improving radiographic examinations of patients.
He is particularly famous today for his early experiments in using radiographic techniques for identifying foreign bodies especially in the skull. As such he is rightly considered the inventor of the principles of stereotaxis a technique which today remains important in neurosurgery. He adapted photographic techniques using geometric reconstructions from drawings he had made and created the operating compass which enabled accurate three-dimensional identification of foreign bodies a technique he described as metroradiography. He was made head of the radiology laboratories and developed the service at the famous Necker hospital in Paris from 1898 till 1934. He was fortunate as the hospital had electricity which was not present in the department of Professor Beclere who is today considered the father of radiology in France. The other person who had the facility of electricity in their department in Paris was Albert Londe at the Salpetriere Hospital .
Contremoulins developed stereoscopy which was a 3D visualisation technique which helped define the depth of metallic foreign bodies within human tissues. He also assisted Professor Sicard in performing the first myelogram with lipiodol. He made contributions to the field of orthopaedic radiography. In the early days only one image was used for identification of fractures. His radiosurgical techniques helped orthopaedic surgeons identify femoral neck fractures more accurately and resulted in better outcomes for these patients. He invented the techniques of pelvimetry for obstetricians. He even made advances in the field of radiological protection and safety, a subject which he took seriously and very few of his personnel suffered from radiation injuries which were common in the early part of the 20th century.
The book covers the difficulties that Contremoulins faced throughout his career. As he was not a medical man radiologists who were medically qualified were in opposition to his being given influence and prominence. In the early days there were considerable conflicts between practitioners who were medically qualified and those who were not. Contremoulins believe it was important to be trained and competent at what he was doing and this had nothing to do with having a medical degree. He argued that his mechanical skills and knowledge of engineering principles and mathematics enabled him to provide a high-quality service taking radiographs. He believed in teamwork long before it became fashionable. Interestingly the surgeons liked working with him as he helped improve the outcomes for their patients. The book gives us an insight into radiological practice in the early part of the 20th century in Paris and introduces us to many of the important medical men of that era. It contains numerous photographs and is well referenced with an extensive bibliography for those who might wish to read the original papers.
Biographies of radiological/radiographic interest are few and far between. This volume is a superb contribution to the field of radiological history and does justice to the contributions of a remarkable man who has all but been forgotten even in his native land.
OUR ANNUAL LECTURE
The video of the complete lecture is now available on Youtube. Click here to watch.
Report on the British Society for the History of Radiology Annual lecture 2021
By Dr Arpan K Banerjee Past Chair and current trustee BSHR
Due to the current Covid pandemic this year’s annual lecture was delivered as a virtual event on Monday 8 Feb 2021. Dr Uwe Busch a distinguished radiology historian , author and the current director of the Rontgen Museum in Remscheid – Lennep , Germany delivered a talk entitled ‘New results on biographical research on W C Rontgen’ .
The first half of the talk was devoted to the Rontgen family tree and we learnt about his ancestors who were successful cloth merchants. Lennep was a small town whose history goes back to the 12 th century and many were farmers in this Bergishland region and then worked in the cloth trade before industrialisation occurred. We were given a detailed review of Rontgen’s lineage. Rontgen was born in the house bought by his grandfather which today has been preserved for posterity.
In the second half of the talk research from Rontgen’s estate and collections in the Rontgen museum were presented. Rontgen left behind over 1800 letters and documents as well as around 2000 glass plates. Of particular interest was his first paper on X-Rays and the people he sent this paper to which included the great and the good of the physicists of his era. In the UK, Arthur Schuster from Manchester and Lord Rayleigh and J J Thompson ( discoverer of the electron ) at Cambridge and Lord Kelvin in Glasgow were all on his list of recipients.
This section of the talk also covered his marriage to Bertha and included illustrations from Rontgen’s extensive photograph collection. Photography was a major hobby of Rontgen’s and the pictures of old Wurzburg which were shown to the audience were a wonderful evocation of what the place was like in his era.
The lecture was well received by the virtual on line audience and Dr Busch was thanked for his wonderful, scholarly informative presentation.
X-RAYS TO EXILE: ARTHUR SCHÜLLER
Schüller was born in 1874 and the arc of his life mirrored the rise and decline of Austria from 1870 till 1955. The Schüller family origins lie in Bucovice and Brunn but his early medical career was spent in Berlin and at the AKH in Vienna.
In 1906 he married Margarete Stiassni, daughter of a wealthy Brunn industrialist. In spite of severe financial constraints on the Medical School after World War I , Arthur was closely involved in the successful graduate courses for foreign doctors who came to learn from those who had been leading figures in establishing Vienna’s pre-
As a Jew he was expelled from the University in 1938. His search for a home elsewhere involved fellow scholars in the USA, UK and Australia . After a spell in Oxford he settled in Australia with eventually at post at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne.
The Schüllers’ two sons had died in Nazi camps and this appears to have provoked Arthur's later decline into withdrawal and depression. He and Margarete lived in Heidelberg, a suburb of Melbourne, until his death in 1957.
His contribution to medical science -
The link to the video is https://youtu.be/YhRLobn-