Lise Meitner and the Atomic Bomb

If you could spend a half hour talking with a significant figure, living or dead, from the world of politics, science, or the arts, who would that person be, and what would you talk about?

A person I would be interested in meeting would be Ms. Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist whose work led to the creation of the atomic bomb. I have always been intrigued about how she might have viewed her scientific discovery and her role in history. If I had a chance to meet her, I would focus our conversation on the time before the start of World War II, particularly around the time when Nazi Germany invaded Austria. During this time Meitner was involved in a scientific race among a few physicists to discover why atoms exhibited a particular behavior. She, along with another scientist, discovered fission, the splitting of an atom that releases a great amount of energy. This research would eventually culminate in the creation of the atomic bomb. I would ask Ms. Meitner what she thought were the implications of her discovery at the time. Before the concept of a nuclear weapon, what did she think would result from fission? What did she believe were its practical uses? Once Germany and Japan assumed aggressive stances and war seemed inevitable, did she consider using her discovery as a nuclear weapon? I would ask Meitner about any personal conflicts that she might have experienced once her discovery began to be considered in the making of the bomb. How did she react and what did she think when other physicists wanted to create a super weapon using her discovery? I would also be interested in her views from a modern perspective. Would she, in retrospect, view the bombings of Japan as justified acts? How would she see her role in the development of history? Most importantly, I would ask her if she regrets having discovered fission, and if she would have revealed her discovery had she known how it was to be used.

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