Women’s History Month Highlights German Chemist Dr. Ida Noddack

By Rita Patel

Dr. Ida Noddack

Dr. Ida Noddack (1896-1978) was a German Chemist most well-known for her co-discovery of rhenium and challenging Enrico Fermi’s theory on element 93.

Born Ida Tacke on February 25, 1896, like many early female scientists, she was a true trailblazer in her field. In Germany, she became one of the first women to study chemistry and obtain a doctorate. And like many early female scientists, she met her husband and fellow chemist, Walter Noddack, through her work in the field. In a stunning example of “two minds are greater than one,” Ida and Walter theorized that missing element 75 should have properties similar to its horizontal neighbors, i.e., similar to molybdenum not manganese, which was the common belief at the time. In June 1925, rhenium, named in honor of the German River Rhine, was discovered by Ida and Walter within a sample of columbite from Norway.

In 1933, when physicist Enrico Fermi began his work studying the products of nuclear reactors, Fermi theorized that one of the byproducts was a trans-uranium element, number 93, which would be placed vertically below rhenium on the Periodic Table. Although this theory was widely accepted at the time, Dr. Noddack was skeptical. In a paper critical of Fermi’s conclusions, she stated the possibility of the bombarded nucleus breaking up into large fragments, whose isotopes would not be near the original atom on the Periodic Table. At this time, her theory was considered hogwash and her paper “On Element 93” was ignored. Today, we call this theory nuclear fission.

For most of her career, Dr. Noddack made important discoveries and crafted scientific theories without being paid – her only salaried position was during two years at the University of Strasbourg. In the height of her career in the 1930s, she was nominated three times for a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She never won.

Dr. Noddack died September 24, 1978 in Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany.

Sources:

  1. Atomic Heritage Foundation. (Copyright 2017). Ida Noddack. Retrieved from: https://www.atomicheritage.org/profile/ida-noddack
  2. Habashi, F. Royal Society of Chemistry. (Published 2009, Mar. 1). Ida Noddack and the missing elements. Retrieved from: https://eic.rsc.org/feature/ida-noddack-and-the-missing-elements/2020167.article
  3. (Last Edit 2018, Jan. 31). Ida Noddack. Retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ida_Noddack#Element_discovery_priority

ANS Nuclear Cafe author Rita PatelRita Patel is a double-graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with bachelor and master of science degrees in Materials Science Engineering, as well as a certificate in Nuclear Engineering. She has been an ANS national member since 2011 and is one of the founding members of the ANS Social Media Team. She is currently working in Washington, D.C. You can experience her witticisms first hand on Twitter via @RitaTherPita.


 

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