Chinese-American nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu, also known as “The First Lady of Physics,” contributed to the Manhattan Project and made history with an experiment that disproved the hypothetical law of conservation of parity.
Who was Chien-Shiung Wu?
Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American nuclear physicist who has been dubbed “the First Lady of Physics”, the “Queen of Nuclear Research”, and “the Chinese Madame Curie”. Her contributions to research include work on the Manhattan Project and Wu’s experiment, “which contradicted the hypothetical law of conservation of parity.” During her career, she earned many accolades, including the Comstock Prize in Physics (1964), the Bonner Prize (1975), the National Medal of Science (1975), and the Wolf Prize in Physics (inaugural award, 1978). Your book Beta Decay (1965) remains a standard reference for nuclear physicists. Wu died in 1997 at the age of 84.
Early age and education
Born in the small town of Liu He (Ho) located near Shanghai, China, on May 31, 1912 to Zhong-Yi and Fanhua Fan, Chien-Shiung Wu was the only child and the middle of three children. Education was important to the Wu family. Her mother, a teacher, and her father, an engineer, encouraged her to pursue science and mathematics from an early age. She attended one of the first primary schools to admit girls, Mingde Continuing Vocational School for Women, which was founded by her father, and after that, she left to attend boarding school, Soochow (Suzhou) Girls’ School. and enrolled in the Normal School. School teaching program. She later attended Shanghai Gong Xue Public School for one year. In 1930, Wu enrolled in one of China’s oldest and most prestigious higher education institutions, Nanjing (or Nanking) University, also known as National Central University, where he first pursued mathematics but quickly changed his major. to physics, inspired by Marie Curie. He graduated valedictorian at the head of his class with a bachelor’s degree in 1934.
After graduation, he taught for a year at the National Chekiang (Zhejiang) University in Hangzhou and worked in a physics laboratory at the Academia Sinica, where he conducted his first experimental research in X-ray crystallography (1935-1936) under the tutelage of Jing. -Wei Gu, a teacher. Dr. Gu encouraged her to pursue graduate studies in the United States, and in 1936 she visited the University of California at Berkeley. It was there that she met Professor Ernest Lawrence, who was responsible for the first cyclotron and later won a Nobel Prize, and another Chinese physics student, Luke Chia Yuan, who influenced her to stay at Berkeley and get her Ph.D. Wu’s graduate work focused on a highly desirable topic of the time: uranium fission products.
After completing his Ph.D. in 1940, Wu married her former graduate student, Luke Chia-Liu Yuan, on May 30, 1942, and the two moved to the East Coast, where Yuan worked at Princeton University and Wu at Smith College. After a few years, she accepted an offer from Princeton University as the first instructor hired to join the faculty. In 1944 she joined the Manhattan Project at Columbia University where he helped solve a problem that the physicist Enrico Fermi could not determine. He also discovered a way to “enrich uranium ore that produced large amounts of uranium as bomb fuel.” In 1947, the couple welcomed a son, Vincent Wei-Cheng Yuan, into their family. Vincent would follow in Wu’s footsteps and also become a nuclear scientist.
Nobel Prize exclusion
After leaving the Manhattan Project in 1945, Wu spent the remainder of her career in Columbia’s Department of Physics as the undisputed leading researcher in beta-decay and weak-interaction physics. After being contacted by two male theoretical physicists, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang, “Wu’s experiments with cobalt-60, a radioactive form of the metal cobalt” disproved “the law of parity (the law of quantum mechanics that held that two physical systems, like atoms, are mirror images that behave identically )”. Unfortunately, although this led to a Nobel Prize for Yang and Lee in 1957, Wu was excluded, as were many other female scientists during this time. Wu was aware of gender-based injustice and at an MIT symposium in October 1964, stated: “I wonder if tiny atoms and nuclei, mathematical symbols, or DNA molecules have any preference for male or female treatment? “.
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achievements and awards
Wu was honored with many other accolades throughout her career. In 1958, she was the first woman to win the Research Corporation Award and the seventh woman elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She is also a recipient of the Franklin Institute’s John Price Wetherill Medal (1962), the Cyrus B. Comstock Award of the National Academy of Sciences in Physics (first woman to receive this award, 1964), the Bonner Award (1975), the National Medal of Science (1975) and the Wolf Prize in Physics (inaugural award, 1978). She was the first woman to receive a Sc.D. from Princeton University (1958), and she received many honorary degrees.
In 1974 she was named Scientist of the Year by Industry Research Magazine and in 1976, she was the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society. In 1990, the Chinese Academy of Sciences named asteroid 2752 after her (she was the first living scientist to receive this honor), and five years later, Tsung-Dao Lee, Chen Ning Yang, Samuel CC Ting, and Yuan T. Lee founded the Wu Chien-Shiung Education Foundation in Taiwan in order to provide scholarships to aspiring young scientists. In 1998, Wu was inducted into the American National Women’s Hall of Fame one year after her death.
Later life and legacy
After being promoted to Associate (1952) and then Full Professor (1958) and becoming the first woman to hold a tenured professorship in Columbia’s physics department, she was named the first Michael I. Pupin Professor of Physics in 1973. His subsequent research focused on the causes of sickle cell anemia. Wu retired from Columbia in 1981 and devoted his time to educational programs in the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan, and the United States. She was a great supporter of the promotion of girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) and she has given numerous lectures to support this cause becoming a role model for young scientists around the world.
Chien-Shiung Wu died from complications of a stroke on February 16, 1997 in New York City at the age of 84. Her cremated remains were interred on the grounds of Mingde Senior High School (successor to Mingde Women’s Vocational Continuing School). On June 1, 2002, a bronze statue of Wu was placed in the courtyard of Mingde High to commemorate her life.
Dedicated to science, Wu mentored and encouraged not only her son, but dozens of graduate students throughout his career. She is remembered as a pioneer in the scientific community and an inspiring role model. her granddaughter, Jada Wu Hanjie commented “I was young when I saw my grandmother, but her modesty, strictness and beauty remained ingrained in my mind. My grandmother had greatly emphasized enthusiasm for scientific development and national education, which she really admired.”