Chien-Shiung Wu

1912 - 1997

Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese experimental physicist whose experiments revolutionised our understanding of nuclear physics and Beta Decay – a type of radioactive decay in which protons in the nuclei of unstable elements convert to neutrons or vice versa.

 

Chien Shiung Wu

Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archivess

"I wonder whether the tiny atoms and nuclei, or the mathematical symbols, or the DNA molecules have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment" Chien-Shiung Wu said at a symposium on women in science. By this point Wu had, amongst other things, worked on the Manhattan project and disproved the hypothetical ‘law of conservation of parity’, changing the face of physics – and the world – forever.

Born near Shanghai, Wu travelled to America to study for her PhD and never returned to China to work. She became a key member of the Manhattan project at Columbia University. Chieng-Shiung Wu had a talent for designing experiments, she confirmed Enrico Fermi’s theory of Beta Decay by improving the experimental technique that he had used and she later showed that the ‘law of conservation of parity’ (that objects and their mirror images behave the same way, just reversed) did not apply during Beta Decay. Wu’s two colleagues, who had asked her to build this experiment, won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics but Wu was not included.

 

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