Ida Noddack

Ida Noddack (1896-1978): The discoverer of the element rhenium

Together with her husband, Ida Noddack looked for new elements and discovered rhenium. She is also considered a thought leader in nuclear fission. She was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize, but never received it.

Ida Eva Noddack (née Tacke) was born on February 25, 1896 in Lackhausen in the Lower Rhine region, which is now part of Wesel. She attended a girls' high school and then for two years the St. Ursula Gymnasium in Aachen. With strong support from her father, she was one of the first women in Germany to study chemistry and in 1921 received her doctorate in engineering from the Technical University of Berlin. The title of her dissertation was "On anhydrides of higher aliphatic fatty acids". She then worked in industry at AEG for a number of years.

In 1925 she joined the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR) in Berlin as a research chemist, where she met Walter Noddack (1903-1960), a student of Nobel Prize winner Walter Nernst (1864-1941), whom she married soon afterwards. Even before the wedding, the two did research together. Together with the chemist Otto Berg (1873-1939), a specialist in X-rays, they looked for new elements. They concentrated on the elements with the atomic numbers 43 and 75, the existence of which Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) had predicted as the developer of the chemical periodic table.

As early as 1925, the trio succeeded in discovering the element with the ordinal number 75. It was christened Rhenium (Latin for Rhenus for Rhine) - after Ida Noddack's homeland. The discovery of rhenium was quickly confirmed and in 1928 the Noddack couple succeeded in extracting one gram of the purest rhenium from 660 kilograms of molybdenum ore. A second discovered element, which should be the element with the ordinal number 43, was named Masurium in memory of the Masurian homeland of Walter Noddack. This discovery, however, was vehemently doubted in the professional world, since the Noddack couple could not confirm the representation. That may also be the reason why Ida Noddack was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the 1930s, but never received it. The undisputed proof of element 43, which today bears the name technetium, was made in 1937 by researchers from Italy.

The Noddack couple went to the University of Freiburg in 1932. With an article in the renowned specialist journal "Angewandte Chemie", Ida Noddack caused quite a stir in 1934. In it she expressed the assumption that heavy atomic nuclei, when bombarded with neutrons, should disintegrate into several larger fragments - into isotopes of known elements. Your thesis of such a nuclear fission triggered violent opposition, because it was not in accordance with the ideas of atomic nuclei of the time. One of the greatest critics was the chemist Otto Hahn, who is quoted with the sentence: "Your assumption that the atomic nucleus burst is absurd". Four years later, Lise Meitner (1878-1968), Otto Hahn (1879-1968) and Fritz Straßmann (1902-1980) observed the first nuclear fission. Only Messrs Hahn and Straßmann received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this in 1944. It was only shortly before his death that Hahn paid tribute to Noddack's early knowledge with the words: "And Ida was right."

From 1942 the Noddack couple researched and taught in Strasbourg at the Reich University founded by the National Socialists at the end of 1941. After the Second World War, the couple moved to Bamberg, where they set up the Research Institute for geochemistry at the Philosophical-Technical University, the forerunner of the University of Bamberg. After the unexpected death of her husband in December 1960, Ida Noddack continued to work at the institute and from then on also turned to biochemical issues. In 1968 she retired.

Ida Noddack died on September 24, 1978 at the age of 82 in Bad Neuenahr in a nursing home. She was buried in Bamberg at the side of her husband, who had died 18 years earlier.

Noddack did not receive a Nobel Prize for her trend-setting research results, but received numerous honors, including in 1931 the Liebig commemorative coin of the Association of German Chemists, the predecessor organization of the German Chemical Society (GDCh), together with her husband, as the first woman. In 1937 she was elected a member of the Leopoldina and in 1966 was awarded the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.


  • F. Habash: Ida Noddack and the missing elements. Education in Chemistry, Vol. 46, No.2, Royal Society of Chemistry, 2018, p. 48
  • I. Noddack: About the element 93, Angewandte Chemie 47 (37), 1934, p. 653
  • I. Tacke, W. Noddack, O. Berg: Die Ekamangane, Naturwissenschaften 13 (26), 1925, p. 567

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The texts published in this series do not claim to be scientific publications. Authors and other people involved are not experts in the history of science. The purpose of the series is to introduce the mostly unknown women chemists and to remind you of the well-known women chemists. We encourage readers who want to know more to study academic Literature on the women featured. In some cases there are detailed chemical-historical works.

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last modified: 08.06.2021 13:29 H from M.Fries