Ida Eva Tacke Noddack


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(1896–1979) German chemist

Noddack, who was born at Lackhausen in Germany, was educated at the Technical University, Berlin, where she obtained her doctorate in 1921. After her marriage to the chemist Walter Noddack she worked at the same institutions as her husband.

In 1926 she collaborated with her husband and O. Berg in the discovery of rhenium. More intriguing, however, was her interpretation of a famous experiment of Enrico Fermi in which he had bombarded uranium with slow neutrons in the hope of producing artificial elements. Although their results were not particularly clear Noddack, in 1934, argued that “It is conceivable that in the bombardment of heavy nuclei with neutrons, these nuclei break up into several large fragments which are actually isotopes of known elements, not neighbors of the irradiated element.” This is, in fact, the hypothesis of nuclear fission which, when it was published five years later by Otto Frisch, was immediately seen to be of fundamental importance.

Noddack's contribution seems rather to have passed unnoticed. Fermi was aware of her work as she had sent him a copy, but he remained unconvinced and continued to believe that he had made transuranic elements.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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