Female Scientists of the Manhattan Project

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well… 'Women’s History is Women’s Right.' It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision….” — President Jimmy Carter, February 1980.
 
Dr. Marie Curie
Dr. Marie Curie

Dr. Marie Curie

The first and only woman to receive the Nobel Prize twice.
  • Marie Sklodowska was born in Warsaw Poland in 1867, to a mathematics and physics teacher.
  • Unable to attend a university because she was a woman, Marie attended “Flying University” a underground college.
  • Marie moved to Paris in 1891, in order to pursue a degree in physics and mathematics.
  • After receiving her master’s degree Marie began working with Pierre Curie, who later became her husband.
  • Marie and Pierre Curie discovered two new elements, polonium and radium, and coined the term radioactivity.
  • In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to earn her doctoral degree in France.
  • Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work in Physics in 1903.
  • In 1911, Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
  • During WWI Curie devoted her time to helping wounded soldiers and bought war bonds with her Nobel Prize money.
 
Dr. Lise Meitner
Dr. Lise Meitner

Dr. Lise Meitner

The “mother of nuclear fission.”
  • Lise Meitner was born in Austria to a Jewish family in 1878.
  • Meitner became the second woman to earn a doctoral degree in physics at the University of Vienna in 1905.
  • After graduation Meitner moved to Berlin and began working with Otto Hahn where they discovered several new isotopes.
  • In 1922, Meitner became the first woman in Germany to become a full professor in physics at the University of Berlin.
  • In 1938, Meitner was forced to travel in secret out of Berlin to Sweden where she would continue her work.
  • Six months later Meitner and Otto Frisch published results explaining and naming nuclear fission.
  • Although nominated several times, Lise did not receive the Nobel Prize for her work. Otto Hahn was given the award.
  • Offered a position on the Manhattan Project, Meitner refused the work stating “I will have nothing to do with a bomb.”
  • Element 109, discovered in 1997, was named in her honor. Meitnerium.
 
Dr. Leona Woods Marshall Libby
Dr. Leona Woods Marshall Libby

Dr. Leona Woods Marshall Libby

The only female member of the Chicago Pile.
  • Leona graduated high school at age 14 and from the University of Chicago with a BS in chemistry at the age of 19.
  • While completing her Ph.D. Woods was assigned to work on the Chicago Pile where she constructed the neutron detectors used to gage the flow of flow on neutrons in the pile.
  • Leona was also the only female scientist at the Hanford site and worked directly with Enrico Fermi.
  • Dr. Libby went on to have a successful career teaching at several universities before taking a position at UCLA as a visiting professor, in 1973.
  • Dr. Libby’s research included the study of rainfall patterns in tree rings hundreds of years before records were kept. This opened the door for climate change research.
 
Dr. Liane B Russell
Dr. Liane B Russell

Dr. Liane B Russell

Geneticist and an advocate for conservation.
  • Liane moved to America in 1941 at the age of 18 from Austria where her family fled the Nazi persecution of Jews.
  • The daughter of a chemist, Liane followed in her fathers footsteps to become a scientist. Russell earned her Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College in New York and went on to receive a Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of Chicago.
  • Dr. Russell and her husband, Bill Russell, started working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1947.
  • The work Dr. Russell accomplished in her 55 year career at ORNL transformed the field of genetics and won her the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award in 1994, among several other awards and honors throughout her career.
  • Liane was a founding member of the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning.

Last updated: April 3, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Manhattan Project National Historical Park
c/o NPS Intermountain Regional Office
P.O. Box 25287

Denver, CO 80225-0287

Phone:

(505) 661-6277
This phone number is for the Los Alamos Unit Visitor Center. You may also contact the Oak Ridge Unit Visitor Center at (865) 576-6767 or the Hanford Unit Visitor Center at (509) 376-1647.

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