The year 1879 was a remarkable one for the sciences. James Clerk Maxwell's death in November had been more than compensated by four notable births during the previous year: Max von Laue on 9 October, Albert Einstein and Otto Hahn on 14 and 12 March, and Lise Meitner on 7 November, 1878. All four worked as friends and colleagues for many years at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. Together with Max Planck, Walther Nernst and others they formed one of the most prestigious groups of scientists in the world. Laue discovered the interference of x rays. Hahn and Meitner worked side by side on nuclear chemistry; their work led to the discovery of nuclear fission.

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