You would think that the person who discovered nuclear fission would be one of the most famous scientists of the 20th century. You would think she’d be a household name. But unless you’re a geek or a history buff, it’s possible that you’ve never even heard of Lise Meitner (1878-1968).
Meitner was born in Austria at a time when it was against the law for girls to attend school past the age of 13. Yet she overcame a lifetime of legal and social barriers to become one of the top nuclear physicists in the world. In the 1930s she set up a team in Berlin to explore transuranium elements, recruiting Otto Hahn to do the chemistry experiments. Anti-Semitism intervened in the form of the Nazis, and Meitner, born a Jew, was forced to flee Germany in 1938. From her exile in Sweden she continued to direct the experiments in Berlin, communicating with Hahn by letter and even meeting with him secretly in Copenhagen. The result was one of the great breakthroughs in the history of physics. On Christmas Day 1938, in a huge rush of insight while mulling over the data from Berlin, Meitner suddenly Saw It All: that the atom could be split, that the resulting energy was described by Einstein’s E = mc², that nuclear theory itself had to be fundamentally revised.
Hahn published the fission results without listing Meitner as co-author, a move that was perhaps understandable given the Nazi situation. But what happened next was not: in 1944 Otto Hahn alone was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering nuclear fission. Meitner got bupkis. The Nobel committee simply ignored her existence. And so it is that Lise Meitner is often called the greatest scientist to never win a Nobel prize.
But on to the costume! We’re going with the charming Gibson Girlish photo of Lise as a young doctoral student in Vienna in 1906 (center of our main illustration). We don’t know what she really had on the end of that cord around her neck (a pocket watch?), but we decided it would be fun to imagine it was her slide rule. If your physics lab is having a Halloween party, you will be the belle of the ball. Total geek heaven. The pieces we suggest, from left to right:
1. Gibson Girl skirt in black moire.
2. Pinstripe blouse in black and white.
3. Black velvet belt.
4. Straw boater.
5. Wrist length satin gloves in white. Lise would have worn kid gloves, but these are a much less expensive alternative.
6. Slide rule on a 40″ loupe chain. The traditional slide rule had a belt loop on the leather case so you could carry it with you everywhere. This loupe chain is perfect for hooking onto that belt loop. The problem, of course, is finding a slide rule. You can search eBay for a used one; just make sure it comes with the leather case.
Optional corset: It’s not required, but a corset will definitely help give you the correct period silhouette.
Shoes: Victorian lace-up boots. These also have a sneaky zipper on the inner side so that you don’t have to fool with the laces if you don’t want to: