The story of two close friends who discovered nuclear fission is told in great detail within the context of both World Wars. This video is as much about role of scientists in political events, social responsibility, and discrimination against women and Jews, as it is about the science, though the science is clearly explained. Archival film footage and photographs are extensively and effectively used throughout the production.
Most fascinating are the contrasting life choices made by these two scientists. They were close collaborators and good friends during the first 20 years of their professional life. However, Lise Meitner, a physicist, faced early discrimination as a woman and later as a Jew. She was forced to flee Germany as the Nazis established their hold over the country in the 1930s. Though given the opportunity, she refused to participate in the U.S. Manhattan project to develop the atomic bomb.
Otto Hahn, a chemist, ended up collaborating and being a key leader of the Nazi wartime atomic project. Though he secretly collaborated with Lise in exile, he refused to acknowledge her role in explaining nuclear fission, taking sole credit and ultimately the Nobel Prize for this discovery. Yet Lise actually coined the term “nuclear fission” and worked out the actual physics in the first published explanation of the phenomena.

The film honestly discusses the horrors of Nazism including the concentration camps, the tendency of scientists to care about science above all considerations, and the politics of science achievements and their recognition. It clearly demonstrates the irony of German scientists, many of whom were philosophically opposed to Hitler, making serious moral compromises by directly assisting the Nazi war effort in order to continue their scientific research and keep their positions within their institutions. Hence, this video can be an excellent starting point for a wealth of historical, political, moral, civil rights, and social issues. This is a well-done, serious history and will be most appreciated by serious students.
– Ben Wagner, University of Buffalo


Funded by The National Science Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

National Science Foundation   Alfred P. Sloan Foundation