The Humboldt brothers, the physicists Hermann von Helmholtz and Max Planck, the historian Theodor Mommsen – a row of famous academics greet visitors to the main building of Berlin's Humboldt University. In 2014 a woman joined the ranks of marble and bronze luminaries: the Austrian nuclear physicist Lise Meitner (1878-1968). The life-size jagged bronze statue was created by Berlin sculptor Anna Franziska Schwarzbach. The scientist appears deeply concentrated, engaged in a conversation. In contrast to her male colleagues, Meitner makes do without an armchair, scholarly cloak, lectern or books. It is in fact the first monument to a female academic in the whole of Germany.
Lise Meitner stands, her gaze reaches out as if to her students in a lecture hall. In 1926 she became the first women to be appointed as an associate professor at Berlin University, as it was then called. Her journey to this point was difficult: in Vienna she had to study on her own for her Abitur (university entrance exam) and later secretly listened in on Max Planck's lectures in Berlin, as women were not yet permitted to study at university.
Together with the chemist Otto Hahn, Meitner made pioneering breakthroughs in the realm of experimental nuclear physics. In 1933 she was banned from teaching due to her Jewish roots. From her exile in Sweden, she provided the theoretical analysis for the nuclear fission of uranium and thorium that Hahn and his assistant Fritz Straßmann discovered and proved in 1938. Later she refused to contribute to the construction of the atomic bomb and was committed to the peaceful use of nuclear energy after the war.