Often referred to as the "mother of the atomic bomb," Lise Meitner is the unsung hero of the science and research that went into discovery of fission.
She was born on November 7, 1878. As a college student, she studied at Vienna University where her focus was on physics and math. Five years after enrolling in 1901, she graduated in 1906 wit her doctorate in physics.
After moving to Berlin, she proceeded to spend several years researching there until she was forced to seek refuge in Sweden in July 1938 due to her Jewish descent and the anti-Semitism present in Germany under Nazi rule.
However, even while in Sweden, away from her colleagues in Germany, Meitner continued to correspond with them through the mail, often providing helpful advice and insight into the research being conducted.
Perhaps her most important contribution was when she suggested to Otto Hahn that he use neutrons to bombard uranium, which resulted in the splitting of the uranium nucleus and a release of an enormous amount of energy since uranium is the most unstable element and thus the most fissionable.
Thus, Meitner was the first to realize the amount of energy that was released and applied Einstein's E=mc2 equation to calculate the energy that was released.
Unfortunately, Meitner was overlooked for the Nobel Prize in Physics (which went to her colleague Otto Hahn). Part of the reason for this is that, due to her refugee status during the war, her name was not listed on any of the published results. However, she was in fact the mind behind the discovery of fission and was somewhat acknowledged when, in 1966, she, Hahn, and Strassman were awarded the U. S. Fermi Prize.
Interestingly, Meitner paused her research during the First World War to work as a radiologist in a field hospital in the spirit of altruism.
Also of note is the fact that, despite being invited to join the Manhattan Project, she declined, refusing to take part in a project that had such potential to cause destruction.
Meitner died on October 27, 1968.