15 June 2024

Lise Meitner - a great female scientist .. guest post

Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was the Vienna-born daughter of a large Jew­ish family. Because girls weren’t allowed tertiary education, the family gave Lise a private tutor at 14. She entered the Uni of Vienna in 1901, study­ing physics under Ludwig Boltzmann. Later she received her doct­or­ate in 1906, only the second woman to receive one from Vienna Uni.

She left for Berlin in 1907 with family support, to attend Dr Max Planck’s lectures and to do rad­io-activity research with chemist Dr Otto Hahn. After a year, she became his Hahn’s as­s­istant and worked with him, wanted to discover isotopes. In 1913 phys­ic­ist Meitner and chemist Hahn collaborated at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry in Berlin.   

Drs Meitner and Hahn in their laboratory, 1913
German History Intersections
Meitner supported the Austrian army as a medical X-ray technician ­in WWI, returning to Berlin in 1917 when she and Hahn disc­ov­ered the radioactive chemical el­em­ent pro­tact­in­ium. Meitner was awarded the 1917 Leibniz Medal.

Having isolated the is­o­t­ope prot­ac­t­inium, Meitner and Hahn stud­ied nuclear is­omerism and beta decay. In 1926 she became the fir­st female Professor of Physics in Ger­many, heading up the Phys­ics Dept at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry. Research at the time was theoretical, but many scientists knew about the honour of the Nobel Prize waiting for the winner who dis­covered it. She worked with Hahn for 30 years, collaborating cl­osely, st­udying radio­activity, with her physics skills and his chemistry skills.

In the 1930s with the German physical chemist Dr Fritz Strass­mann, she inv­estigated neutron bombardment of uranium. Strassmann was not Jewish but he refused to join the Nazi Party, so both their res­earch efforts were interr­upt­ed as the Nazis gained power. She stayed in Germany longer than most because of her Austrian citizen­ship, but because she was Jew­ish, her physicist friends had to help sneak her over the border when Austria was annexed by Germ­any in 1938. Then she worked in Sweden at the Nob­el Institute for Exper­imental Physics, then continued her laborat­ory work at Stock­holm’s Manne Siegbahn Instit­ute, developing a working relationship with Niels Bohr.

Physicist Dr Otto Frisch (1904–79) was the Austrian-born first cousin of Lise Meit­ner. He first measured the magnetic moment of the proton and together they advanced the first theoretical explanation of nuclear fis­sion and first detected the fission by-products.

While working together, Otto Frisch and Lise Meitner received the news that Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann had discovered that the collision of a neutron with a uranium nucleus produced the element barium as one of its by-products. Frisch and Meitner both hypothesised that the uranium nucleus had split in two, coining the term nuc­l­ear fission to describe the proc­ess. After Hahn and Strassmann showed that barium appeared in neutron-bombarded uran­ium, it was Meitner and Frisch who explain­ed the ph­ys­ical charact­eristics of this division.

L->R Niels Bohr, Werner Heisen­berg, Wolfgang Pauli, Otto Stern, Meitner, Rudolf Ladenburg and ?
conference in 1937, Wiki

In Feb 1939, Meit­ner published the physical expl­an­ation for the ob­serv­ations. Meitner, Frisch and colleag­ues found that uranium atoms split when bombarded with neutrons, rel­easing a large amount of energy. Nuc­l­ear fission process was later used in nuclear power plants and bombs.

Hahn had isol­ated evidence for nuclear fission, but Meitner and Frisch were the first to clarify how the process occ­urred. Yet in 1944 Hahn al­one re­ceived the Chemistry Nobel Prize regarding nuc­lear fis­sion, giv­en that he ignored Meitner’s research af­ter she left Ger­many. He should have argued that Meitner merited the Nobel Prize as well.

After WW2 Meitner continued working in Sweden, then travelled and lect­ured across the USA. Her recognition of the explosive potent­ial of the process was what motivated Dr Albert Eins­tein to cont­act Pres Roosevelt, lead­ing to the establishment of the Manhattan Project. She was then in­vited to work on the Project at Los Alamo but Meitner opp­os­ed the atomic bomb and refused to work there at all.

On a visit to the U.S in 1946 she was welcomed by her siblings, and given total Americ­an press celeb­rity treatment, including being named Woman of the Year by the Women's National Press Club, DC. She had dinner with Pres Harry Truman who mistak­en­ly thought that she worked on the atomic bomb but Lise Meitner refused to work on a bomb.

Her Swedish colleagues planned to get her a proper position. In 1947, Meitner moved to Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology to establish a new facility for atomic research, with plenty of researchers to help. Appropriately she received in the Max Planck Medal, honouring her old mentor in Berlin.

Lise Meitner, Life in Physics,
(California Studies in the History of Science,
by Ruth Lewin Sime, 1997, Amazon

But the Nobel nastiness wasn’t even partly rect­if­ied until 1966, when Hahn, Meitner and Strassman won the En­rico Fermi Award, for their joint re­search that led to the discovery of uran­ium fis­sion. What a long wait!

The physicist who never lost her human­ity died in Camb­ridge in Oct 1968. In 1992, element 109 was named Meitnerium in her honour. Like many others, I believe she was the most significant woman scientist of the 20th century!

By Dr Joe

11 June 2024

Medici Portraits & Politics exhibition, in N.Y

The Med­ici: Portraits and Politics 1512–1570 exhibition was at Met­ropolitan NY in 2021. The catalogue by the same name exp­lored how the art­ists end­owed their works with a clearly styl­ish character that identified Fl­orentine por­t­rait­­ure. With 90+ notable paint­ings, scul­pt­ur­es, works on paper and me­d­­als, this volume was written by a team of lead­ing international auth­ors and presented a detailed anal­ysis of this era in It­al­ian art: med­als, paintings, sculptures, car­v­ed gemstones, drawings, et­ch­ings, man­u­­scripts and arm­our. Incl­uded were works by the era's most fam­ous artists: Raphael, Jac­opo Pont­ormo & Rosso Fiorentino, Ben­venuto Cell­ini, Agnolo Bronz­ino, Fran­cesco Salviati etc who depicted the elite of Medici Florence.

The Medici had continuously ruled Florence in 1434-94. But the Medici family only returned to power in 1512, after Florence had lost its ident­ity and become a pawn in stormy Eur­op­ean polit­ics. Florence ch­anged from a rep­ublic with elected officials .. to one ruled by Med­ici.

And the key fig­ure in this transformation was 17 year old Cosimo I de Medici from a mi­n­or branch of an elite family, who bec­ame Duke of Fl­orence in 1537, after his pred­ecessor Alessandro de' Medici was mur­d­ered. Cosimo had been selected by power brokers in Florence who bel­ieved they could con­trol him. But instead he grab­bed control from el­ected off­icials, estab­l­ish­ing him­self as an auto­crat. Flor­en­ce was made imp­ort­ant again, even with a tyrant, and the city was grateful.

Alessandro de' Medici Duke of Florence, 1534
by Jacopo Pontormo,
Credit: Philadelphia Museum of Art

To convert the mercant­ile city into the capital of a Medici state, Cosimo en­listed the leading in­tellect­uals, promoting grand architectural, eng­in­eering and art projects. Explore how Cosimo and the other Medici used the era’s dom­inant medi­um, art, as propaganda, clarifying that Florence was still a pow­er to reckon with. See what Floren­t­­ines thought about infl­uen­ce and the central role that arts and culture played in Renaissance pol­it­ics. Cosimo’s goal was to see how he and his cir­cle used the arts to promote the Medici brand.

Port­raits, a very personal sub­ject, pro­vided a seductive way to expl­ore politics and pat­ronage. They be­came an ess­ential means of not­ing sitters’ likeness, character, soc­ial pos­ition and cul­t­ur­al ambitions

In Giorgio Vasari's famous book Lives of the Artists (1550), which was dedicated to the Duke, Florence was promoted as the heart of the Re­n­aissance. He had nurtured the idea of Florence as the intellectual power­house of the Renaissance and the Medici as the key players.

The 2021 exhibition displayed a bronze bust of Cosimo I de' Med­ici 1545 by Cellini, on loan from the Museo Naz­ion­ale del Barg­ello in Fl­orence. In 1557 the bust found a permanent home above the main for­t­ress gate on Elba Island. Its pierc­ing gaze and Roman-ish armour conveyed Cosimo’s pow­er, build­ing on imperial iconography to link the Med­ici and It­aly’s ancient lead­ers. Specialists saw that its eyes had been crafted out of silver, a pre­ference pion­eer­ed in the class­ical civ­il­isations that Renais­sance artists copied centuries later. Thus it was restored.

bronze bust of Cosimo I de' Med­ici 1545 by Cellini
Credit Museo Naz­ion­ale del Barg­ello, Fl­orence

Other works also connected the family to classical culture eg Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus (1537–9) by Bronzino. He cast the Duke as the mythological musician Orpheus, align­ing him with greater forces. A marble bust of an aging Cosimo by sculptor Giovanni Bandini showed him as a Roman emperor, timeless in his authority.

Portraits and Politics
had 6 sections that started in the early C16th when the family newly returned from exile. See how the High Ren­ais­sance rulers cemented their power through commissioning cul­t­ure and associating with artists. The ex­hib­ition’s first sections cov­ered 1512-34, intro­d­ucing us to relatives like Pope Cl­em­ent VII, Lor­­enzo the Magnificent’s ne­ph­ew and Alessandro de’ Med­ici, who ?was the son of Lorenzo di Piero, Duke of Urbino. [The family actually pro­duced four popes: Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV and Leo XI].

Then ins­pect Cosimo himself. See how the Duke and his immed­iate fam­ily, including 1st wife Eleonora of Toledo (d1572), used portraits to proj­ect power, assert Medici continuity and convey cultural refine­ment! Bronzino painted Eleonora, posing alongside each of her sons. Plac­ing each son next to mum said that the next gen­erat­ion would create branches from the invigorated dynastic  trunk.

Bronzino, Eleanora of Toledo and son Giovanni, 1545
Photo credit: Ufizzi

The second half of Por­t­raits and Politics examined those whose art elev­at­ed Florence to new cultural heights. It put together the work of Bronzino, the Mannerist artist who was Cosimo’s court paint­er, and Francesco Salviati, whose pan-Italian style com­peted with Bron­z­ino’s clearly Florentine-based art. And the exhibition celebrated the city’s literary culture, linked to portraiture. But as realistic as the facial image was, this alone could not convey the most intim­ate aspects of the sitter. Identity was embedded in symbols, in­ cod­if­ied for­m­al language capable of ex­­­­­plaining concepts prev­iously con­fin­ed to poetry. NB Bron­zino’s restored Portrait of Poet Lau­ra Bat­t­if­erri. Laur­a’s like­ness explicitly referenced 2 other fam­ous Flor­ent­ine poets: her Dante prof­ile and her Petrarch verses.

Not all of the people featured were well-known eg his ancestor Cosimo the Eld­er on the catalogue cover. Cosimo the Elder was not a Medici, but was the son of a wealthy Florentine bank­er. None­theless the work was described as a masterpiece of C16th port­rait­ure, summarising the power of art as prop­ag­an­da. The young man with a med­al­l­ion portrait of a woman near his chest was filled with symbolism.

The catalogue closed with a quote from the Ren­aissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, acknowledging the staying power of great art. Now read The Medici Family in History Today and The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512–70 (see above).

08 June 2024

Nazi symbols at White Hart Lane 1935

English and German fans crowd outside the turnstiles
White Hart Lane, 1935
History Today

Despite the War To End All Wars/WW1 and despite tension rising between the countries, Brit­ain maintained st­rong links with Germany; visits between sports clubs and societies were common. German-English football has been important since the 2 nations played their first full international in Berlin in 1930. I don’t remember the 1935 game so I have repeated Olive Prices journal article closely.

In Dec 1935 England played Germany at White Hart Lane Stadium in North London, home of Tottenham Hotspur FC, winning 3-0. The fixture was cont­ent­ious because by late 1935 the Nazi Party had been in power for nearly 3 years; Germ­any was considered in some British govern­mental minis­t­ries as a potent­ial enemy. And weeks be­fore the German team trav­elled to London, the German Reichstag passed the ugly Nuremberg Laws

The British Anti-Nazi Council and Trade Union Congress-TUC lob­bied the Football Association-FA and the gov­ernment to cancel the game. Concerns were heightened because it had the potential to be used as a political de­mon­s­tration by the Nazi government. Unease grew aft­er it was said that thousands of German fans would follow their team to UK. These fans were plan­ning a march through Jewish residential areas in Lo­ndon eg Stamford Hill bef­ore the mat­ch, wearing Nazi badges. The British government av­oided involvement, arguing that it was a private affair organised by private officials. It would not intervene unless the match led to a breach of the peace.

German footballers sing their national anthem and give Nazi salute, 
White Hart Lane London 1935, 

In the build-up to the match, England’s Jewish Chronicle regretted that a game would be played against a dangerous country. But the paper was largely alone in its al­arm; much of the popular press we­lcomed the fixture and crit­ic­ised those who wanted it can­celled. The Evening News st­at­ed if German foot­ball enthus­iasts want to cheer on the German team by waving Swastikas, let them wave. Dai­ly Mail warmly welc­om­ed the German team and cr­it­ic­ised the TUC!

In Dec 1935 the German team flew in. German officials explain­ed to waiting journalists that they were not interested in the politics of the game. German coach Otto Nerz informed reporters that they had no ass­ociation with the Ger­man government; they came for the game alone.

Thousands of German fans did follow the team to London, av­oiding troub­le. Before the game, some of them laid a wreath at the Cenotaph to hon­our Britain’s WW1 dead and others were given guided bus tours of Lon­don. Some of the guides were German-Jewish refugees who’d moved to UK.

Before kick-off there were small protests near White Hart Lane, but nei­t­her the rumoured Fascist marches nor large anti-Nazi demonstrations materialised. The only incident came when a spectator climbed onto the West Stand roof and cut down the rope holding a swast­ika flag. He was arrested and the flag was quickly re-raised.

Both national anthems were pl­ayed before the game and the German fans gave the Nazi salute for each. German fans waved hundreds of sm­all swas­tika flags at exciting moments, but the actual game-time gave them very little optim­ism; Eng­land com­f­or­tably won. The German play­ers were am­ateurs, with a butcher, cob­b­ler and some clerks; and German team off­ic­ials had admitted to the British pr­ess that they were cer­tain to lose. Yet the game was played in a good spirit, with the Daily Mirror even remarking: Doesn’t sport reconcile, doesn’t it bring nations toget­her; can’t we kill war with perpetual football?

Post-match, the FA invited their German counterparts to dinner at Lon­d­on’s Victoria Hotel. F.A president Sir George Clegg apolog­is­ed to the German party for pre-match protests and critic­is­ed the TUC for interf­er­ing. Toasts were offered around the room, including to Adolf Hitler.

excited German football fans give Nazi salute, 
White Hart Lane London 1935, 
History Today

The visit may have been used for propaganda purposes by the Nazis. But the swastika probably did not have the same shock value then, and in any case Britain had its own far-right party, The British Union of Fascists/BUF under Fas­cist Oswald Mosley, claimed 50,000 members. The BUF never used the swastika; as an ultra nationalist move­ment, it used the union jack instead. The British Establishment was ready to give Hitler the benefit of the doubt, as seen in appeasement speeches.


Now let me, Helen, note that in Sept 1935, Germany’s Nuremberg race laws proh­ib­ited sexual relations between Jews and persons of German/related blood. The first camps were already built, although with no gas chambers yet; the first pol­it­ical and religious protesters were already removed from their families; and minorities groups were al­ready persecuted. Did the British Government and the F.A not know? Or did they not care?

The match had been arranged with­out the British Go­vern­ment's involvement. As for threats to London’s large Jewish community, Tottenham's Weekly Her­ald wrote the extent of the Spurs Jew­ish fans was often overstated. Yet the Herald admitted that horrified let­ters had been sent to Spurs from indiv­idual Jews and Jewish organisat­ions. A boycott was sug­gested and protests threatened. Sp­urs simply forwarded the letters to the FA, re­minding them that it was their respons­ibility to keep order. In­­t­ensive police precaut­ions WERE taken to prev­ent disorder in­ and out of the stadium, but the 1000 police found no­th­ing. In fact Jewish protests in the Weekly Herald won lit­tle sym­p­at­hy from the general British public who resented introducing politics into sport.

But it wasn’t only English supporters in the stadium: c20,000 German support­ers ac­companied the team! Note the invasion by thousands of Ger­man supporters excited the most media in­terest, not the football. Heaps of cross-Chan­nel steam­ers ad­ver­t­ised intensely for German fans, followed by London-bound trains and buses.

While the two teams and officials enjoyed a post-match feast, thou­s­ands of German visitors were hurried back on to trains for the return journey. By late that night they’d van­ished from London, sent on their way by a flood of protests at Vic­toria Station. Yet British fans who were arrested were all work­ing class and mostly socialist demonstrators. Many had all served recent prison sent­ences for anti-Nazi protests eg pinning offensive and in­sulting lit­erature at Victoria Station! Shame Britain shame!

04 June 2024

Community book libraries - brilliant

Street Libraries are homes for books, planted in families’ front yard. They are accessible from the street, and are an invitation to share the joys of reading with neighbours. Street Libraries’ books come and go without checking them in or out. People can sim­­ply reach in and take what interests them; when they are done, they can return them to the Street Library Australia network or pass them on. If any­one has a book they think others would enjoy, they can just pop it into a Street Library they are passing. Street Libraries are helping to inspire a love of books in children. 

street library in front of a family home

Noelene & Greg Dwyer add books to their library.
ABC News

Street Library Australia owed a large debt to U.S’s Little Free Lib­raries. The notion of a free, accessible place to find and leave books appealed to Australians who wanted to enc­ourage neigh­bour­liness and promote literacy. The project could ensure that all people have access to literature, even if they don’t come from bookish homes.

Nic Lowe started Street Library Australia after seeing this U.S project while travelling. Street Libraries are weather­proof boxes set up outside a house or in a public space, filled with books that locals can take from, or donate to. Nic said it was awe­some that after an init­ial Builders Workshop building 30 libraries in Nov 2015, there were now c4,500 registered Street Libraries in Australia. 

The Dwyers set up a Street Library out­side their Bundaberg home Qld, noting that it was a great way to meet locals who also love books, re­cycle books and find new books. The lib­rary help­ed them create community spirit! It was wonderful to encourage locals to connect with their comm­unity; they had heaps of books, thanks to locals donating boxes full.

Street Libraries became popular during Covid when communities needed ways to stay connected in lockdowns. Denise Campbell set up her street library in Hervey Bay during the 2020-2 lockdowns that helped the neighbours to communicate with each other, even th­ough they were­n't able to go to each other's houses. Street Libraries also made it easier for kids to access books, rather than buying from a book shop or borr­ow­ing from a school library.

As long as the Street Library is installed securely and out of the way of foot traffic, there are few rules. Be sure to keep the Street Library in good condition, to encourage people to use it and avoid complaints! But there are some recomm­endations. 1]Weatherproof the library by inc­orp­orating eaves into the design, thus protecting the books from rain. 2]Paint the lib­rary with a thick undercoat layer, decorative layer and a clear external varnish. 3]A picture frame without the image mak­es an ex­c­ellent door frame and allows good visibility. 4]Use an old bar fridge or vamp up an old TV cabinet. 5]Enter Street Lib­rary Australia, the book-loving organisation with heaps of ideas.

People can simp­ly reach in and take what interests them; when they are finished, they can return them to the  Street Library network, or pass them on to friends. If anyone has a book that they think others would enjoy, they can pop it into any Street Library they are walking past.

To get involved, interested families can attend one of the workshops, and build their own Street Library. Or purchase a pre-made Street Lib­rary and get started as a Street Librarian right away. Or donate books to someone else's Street Library.

**Another programme to be celebrated is the National Library of Israel/NLI which holds 5 million books, as well as the world’s largest collections of Hebraica, Judaica, rare manuscripts and artefacts. Founded in 1892, the NLI has accompanied the emerging state on its entire ride.

The Oct 2023 massacre left Israel broken hearted, so the Library got activated. Staff moved to the Library’s former building in Jerusal­em’s Hebrew Univers­ity, vacant since the in­stitution’s recently reloc­at­ed to its new site close to the Israel Museum. Volunteer teachers fl­ock­ed to help; class rooms were scrubbed and fitted out; sports equipment and artworks from Bezalel Academy were taken so the shocked refugee children targeted by rockets could study and enjoy; permission was organised from the Ministry of Education.

The NLI fitted out a bookmobile that travelled around the country from Dec 2023, bringing hours of enchantment to refugee school children wherever they were. The vehicle, designed like a cud­dly cat, was crammed full of child­ren’s books; modern fiction, and bel­ov­ed Israeli & general classics

cuddly cat bookmobile

Once the bookmobile parked, children gathered round to see by Hanoch Reim's play It’s Not Just a Story, featuring a cop who fined a book­seller without a licence, only to fall in love with the books. After the play, they provide children with time to browse and read the books that fill the van’s shelves. At the end of each session, every child received a book as a gift, donated by Israeli book publishers.

Children select their books from inside the van
and can sit down outside or take the book home

The bookmobile visited children at 40 refugee centres serving those displaced from Israel’s border communities where the October tragedy occurred. The Education and Culture Dept at the National Library said in these difficult days, the children need magic that can create stories, words and spirit especially for them, so the librarians avoided all stories dealing with trauma and fear. Having survived terrorism, the book­mobile became a first-class ed­ucational activity that helped children return to the learning experience in an enriching, resilient way in terrible times. 

By gifting the chil­d­ren with magic and relief, the youngsters learned about the trans­formational power of reading.  Additionally in an age where screens and virtual technology reign supreme, this bookmobile project planned to revive a love of books. You might enjoy reading Khoollect .