Chien Shiung-Wu

It is WiSE Wednesday again! Chien Shiung-Wu, also known as the “First Lady of Physics” was a Chinese American experimental physicist who is known for her work in nuclear physics. For her primary education, Wu attended a school for girls, founded by her father. She and her father were very close and he encouraged her interests and created an environment where she had access to books, magazines, and newspapers. 

Wu left her hometown in China to attend the Suzhou Women’s Norma School No. 2, a boarding school. She chose the more competitive route then having her family pay tuition, even though they could afford to send her. She was ranked 9th among 10,000 applicants. In 1929, Chien graduated top of her class and was admitted to the National Central University in Nanjing. Two years after graduation, she studied physics and worked at the Zhejiang University. She became a researcher at the Institute of Physics of the Academia Sinica and her mentor encouraged her to earn her PhD at the University of Michigan, where her mentor Jing-Wei also received her PhD. 

Chien worked on the Manhattan Project, where she helped develop the process for separating uranium metal in isotopes, uranium-235 and uranium 238 by gaseous diffusion. She is most well known for the Wu experiment, which contradicted the hypothetical law of conservation of parity. This work lead to her and her colleagues winning the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics. She also won the inaugural Wolf Prize in physics in 1978.

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