Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu, also known as the “First Lady of Physics,” was a Chinese American particle and experimental physicist who worked on the Manhattan project and played an important role in the advancement of nuclear and particle physics.

Madame Wu was born in 1912 in Shanghai. She received a degree in physics from what is now known as Nanjing University and later enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley where she completed her Ph.D. She worked as a physics instructor at Princeton University and Smith College before joining the Manhattan Project in 1944. Her work at the Substitute Alloy Materials Lab was meant to support the gaseous diffusion program for uranium enrichment. Her research also improved Geiger counters for radiation detection.

As a leading physicist on beta decay, Madame Wu was able to confirm Enrico Fermi’s 1933 theory of beta decay. She was also responsible for disproving “the law of conservation of parity” in what is known as the Wu Experiment. In this experiment, she measured the small particles released from cobalt-60 atoms and found that they were emitted asymmetrically. This proved the theory that parity is not reserved for beta decay, vastly altering long-held beliefs in the physics community.

Awards & Recognition

  • 1958 – Became the 7th female member elected to the National Academy of Sciences
  • 1964 – Was the first woman to win the Comstock Prize in Physics from the National Academy of Sciences
  • 1975 – Became the first woman president of the American Physical Society
  • 1975 – Honored with the National Medal of Science
  • 1978 – Received the first Wolf Prize in Physics
  • 1990 – 2753 Wu Chien-Shiung asteroid was named after her
  • Held honorary degrees from Harvard University, Dickinson College, University of South Carolina, University of Albany, SUNY, Columbia University, and National Central University