Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science

When Albert Einstein called Lise Meitner “our Marie Curie,” he meant to praise this Jewish scientist who worked in Germany. But there’s room for more than one woman scientist in a continent or century. Hidden Powers: Lise Meitner’s Call to Science uses verse to show the life of an extraordinary scientist who escaped Nazi persecution then discovered secrets of nuclear fission. The Allies used her findings to create the first atomic bomb, work she refused to join on humanitarian principles. After World War II, Lise Meitner’s scientific partner, a man, received the Nobel Prize for investigations she initiated, established, and interpreted. Her strengths included forgiveness.

Hidden Powers is a “A Junior Library Guild Selection."

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Resources for readers and educators

Download the Discussion questions for Readers about Hidden Powers by Jeannine Atkins


“An admirable tribute to a life that holds some timely lessons.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Atkins approaches her newest biographical novel in verse with the same clarity of purpose and ability to express the vision, the courage, and the achievements of a woman aspiring to move science forward, despite resistance and hostility from many within the field. A respectful and very accessible introduction to Meitner.”

A lot of books go into the making of one more. I’m grateful to the nonfiction writers who make my work in verse possible!

A biography, like a life, may feature one name, but is shaped by many others. No scientist works alone. Please meet Lise and some friends.

Since women weren’t allowed upstairs in the chemistry building in the University of Berlin, Lise Meitner worked in the basement, and eventually became the first woman professor of physics. Chemist Otto Hahn was her scientific partner for thirty years. When he was awarded a Nobel Prize alone for work they did together, he acknowledged her only as his assistant.

Geneticist Elisabeth Scheimann was Lise Meitner’s dear, intimate friend. After the director of Elisabeth’s program began using studies such as hers on breeding snapdragons to find ways to predict and control human populations, Elisabeth shifted her focus to the history of grains.

Albert Einstein called his friend Lise Meitner “our Marie Curie.” After Lise helped discover nuclear fission, she refused to work on an atomic bomb. Einstein encouraged President Roosevelt to pursue that military endeavor. Einstein later called this “the biggest mistake of my life.”

Marie Curie, her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, and Lise Meitner were friends and rivals, working independently to uncover mysteries of radiation. In this photo they are the three women at a 1933 physics conference.

Lise Meitner spent much of her life teaching in a university. After being named “Woman of the Year,” she went on a 1946 lecture tour in the U.S. Her talks were particularly popular at women’s colleges.

Find more photographs of Lise Meitner and her scientific circle on Pinterest.


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