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Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu

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Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

-American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 physicist
Physicist
A physicist is a scientist who studies or practices physics. Physicists study a wide range of physical phenomena in many branches of physics spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic particles of which all ordinary matter is made to the behavior of the material Universe as a whole...

 with expertise in the techniques of experimental physics
Experimental physics
Within the field of physics, experimental physics is the category of disciplines and sub-disciplines concerned with the observation of physical phenomena in order to gather data about the universe...

 and radioactivity. Wu worked on the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

 (she helped to develop the process for separating uranium metal into the U-235 and U-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion). She later performed experiments that contradicted the "Law of Conservation of Parity
Parity (physics)
In physics, a parity transformation is the flip in the sign of one spatial coordinate. In three dimensions, it is also commonly described by the simultaneous flip in the sign of all three spatial coordinates:...

" and which confirmed the theories of colleagues. Her honorary nicknames include the "First Lady of Physics", the "Chinese Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist and chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes—in physics and chemistry...

", and "Madame Wu".

Life in China


Wu was born on May 31, 1912, in her ancestral hometown in Taicang
Taicang
Taicang is a coastal city in Jiangsu Province of People's Republic of China. It is approximately to the northwest of Shanghai, and to the east of Suzhou. It is a county level city under jurisdiction of Suzhou prefecture level city. In 2008, the registered population was at 466,300, and total GDP...

, Jiangsu Province, China
China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

. Wu was the only child. She was raised in Liuhe, a small town in Taicang about 40 miles from Shanghai. Her father, Wu Zhongyi , was a proponent of gender equality
Gender equality
Gender equality is the goal of the equality of the genders, stemming from a belief in the injustice of myriad forms of gender inequality.- Concept :...

, and he founded the Mingde Women's Vocational Continuing School. Wu left her hometown at the age of 11 to go to the Suzhou
Suzhou
Suzhou , previously transliterated as Su-chou, Suchow, and Soochow, is a major city located in the southeast of Jiangsu Province in Eastern China, located adjacent to Shanghai Municipality. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake and is a part...

 Women's Normal School
Normal school
A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name...

 No. 2.

Wu was admitted to the National Central University of Nanjing in 1929. (This university later became the Nanjing University
Nanjing University
Nanjing University , or Nanking University, is one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in China...

 in 1949). According to the governmental regulations of the time, "normal school" (teacher-training college) students wanting to move on to the universities needed to serve as schoolteachers for one year. Hence, in 1929 Wu went to teach in the Public School of China , which had been founded by Hu Shi in Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

.

From 1930 to 1934, Wu studied in the Physics Department of the National Central University. For two years after graduation, she did graduate-level study in physics and also worked as an assistant at the Zhejiang University
Zhejiang University
Zhejiang University , sometimes referred to as Zheda, is a national university in China. Founded in 1897, Zhejiang University is one of China's oldest institutions of higher education...

. After this, Wu became a researcher at the Institute of Physics of the Academia Sinica
Academia Sinica
The Academia Sinica , headquartered in the Nangang District of Taipei, is the national academy of Taiwan. It supports research activities in a wide variety of disciplines, ranging from mathematical and physical sciences, to life sciences, and to humanities and social sciences.Academia Sinica has...

.

Life in the United States of America


Wu decided that she wanted to and needed to continue her studies in physics to a higher level than was possible to do in China. Therefore, she started making applications to study at universities overseas, especially in California
California
California is a state located on the West Coast of the United States. It is by far the most populous U.S. state, and the third-largest by land area...

. Upon receiving a favorable response in 1936, Wu and her female friend, Dong Ruofen , a chemist from Taicang, China
Taicang
Taicang is a coastal city in Jiangsu Province of People's Republic of China. It is approximately to the northwest of Shanghai, and to the east of Suzhou. It is a county level city under jurisdiction of Suzhou prefecture level city. In 2008, the registered population was at 466,300, and total GDP...

, embarked on the long steamship voyage from China to the West Coast of the United States.

The two women most likely arrived at the large seaport of San Francisco, because Wu enrolled in graduate school at the University of California located then just in Berkeley, California
Berkeley, California
Berkeley is a city on the east shore of the San Francisco Bay in Northern California, United States. Its neighbors to the south are the cities of Oakland and Emeryville. To the north is the city of Albany and the unincorporated community of Kensington...

, which is also on San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay
San Francisco Bay is a shallow, productive estuary through which water draining from approximately forty percent of California, flowing in the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers from the Sierra Nevada mountains, enters the Pacific Ocean...

. After some time there, Wu's high abilities and good fortune found her a position as a graduate student under the supervision of one of the world's leading physicists, Ernest O. Lawrencehttp://www.columbia.edu/cu/record/archives/vol22/vol22_iss15/record2215.16.html, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1939 for his invention of the cyclotron
Cyclotron
In technology, a cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator. In physics, the cyclotron frequency or gyrofrequency is the frequency of a charged particle moving perpendicularly to the direction of a uniform magnetic field, i.e. a magnetic field of constant magnitude and direction...

 atom smasher and the development of its applications in physics.

Under Dr. Lawrence, Wu made rapid progress in her education and her research, and she completed her Ph.D.
Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...

 degree in 1940.

Wu married the physicist Luke Chia-Liu Yuan
Luke Chia-Liu Yuan
Luke Chia-Liu Yuan was an Chinese American physicist and grandson of Yuan Shikai.Born in Anyang, Henan, Yuan attended Yenching University in Beijing and California Institute of Technology...

(袁家骝), two years later, in 1942. Luke Chia-Liu Yuan's grandfather was Yuan Shikai
Yuan Shikai
Yuan Shikai was an important Chinese general and politician famous for his influence during the late Qing Dynasty, his role in the events leading up to the abdication of the last Qing Emperor of China, his autocratic rule as the second President of the Republic of China , and his short-lived...

, the first President of the Republic of China
Republic of China
The Republic of China , commonly known as Taiwan , is a unitary sovereign state located in East Asia. Originally based in mainland China, the Republic of China currently governs the island of Taiwan , which forms over 99% of its current territory, as well as Penghu, Kinmen, Matsu and other minor...

 and in his final days—notoriously—a short-lived, self-proclaimed Emperor of China. Wu and her husband became the parents of one son, Vincent Yuan , who also became a physicist.

Wu died on February 16, 1997 after suffering her second stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

 at the age of 84.

Academic career


The new Yuan family moved to the East Coast of the U.S.
East Coast of the United States
The East Coast of the United States, also known as the Eastern Seaboard, refers to the easternmost coastal states in the United States, which touch the Atlantic Ocean and stretch up to Canada. The term includes the U.S...

, where Wu became a faculty member at, first, Smith College
Smith College
Smith College is a private, independent women's liberal arts college located in Northampton, Massachusetts. It is the largest member of the Seven Sisters...

, then Princeton University
Princeton University
Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

 in New Jersey
New Jersey
New Jersey is a state in the Northeastern and Middle Atlantic regions of the United States. , its population was 8,791,894. It is bordered on the north and east by the state of New York, on the southeast and south by the Atlantic Ocean, on the west by Pennsylvania and on the southwest by Delaware...

 for 1942-44, and finally at Columbia University
Columbia University
Columbia University in the City of New York is a private, Ivy League university in Manhattan, New York City. Columbia is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York, the fifth oldest in the United States, and one of the country's nine Colonial Colleges founded before the...

 in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

, beginning in 1944 and continuing for many years after the war, all the way through 1980.

At Columbia University, Wu also did research and development for the Manhattan Project
Manhattan Project
The Manhattan Project was a research and development program, led by the United States with participation from the United Kingdom and Canada, that produced the first atomic bomb during World War II. From 1942 to 1946, the project was under the direction of Major General Leslie Groves of the US Army...

. She helped to develop the process for separating uranium
Uranium
Uranium is a silvery-white metallic chemical element in the actinide series of the periodic table, with atomic number 92. It is assigned the chemical symbol U. A uranium atom has 92 protons and 92 electrons, of which 6 are valence electrons...

 metal into the U-235 and U-238 isotopes by gaseous diffusion
Gaseous diffusion
Gaseous diffusion is a technology used to produce enriched uranium by forcing gaseous uranium hexafluoride through semi-permeable membranes. This produces a slight separation between the molecules containing uranium-235 and uranium-238 . By use of a large cascade of many stages, high separations...

. This was the process that was implemented on a gigantic scale at the K-25 Plant
K-25
K-25 is a former uranium enrichment facility of the Manhattan Project which used the gaseous diffusion method. The plant is located in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, on the southwestern end of the Oak Ridge Reservation.-History:...

 near Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Oak Ridge is a city in Anderson and Roane counties in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Tennessee, about west of Knoxville. Oak Ridge's population was 27,387 at the 2000 census...

, whose construction began in 1944.

In her research at Columbia, Wu also worked to develop improved Geiger counters for measuring nuclear radiation levels.

At Columbia Wu knew the Chinese-born theoretical physicist Tsung-Dao Lee
Tsung-Dao Lee
Tsung-Dao Lee is a Chinese born-American physicist, well known for his work on parity violation, the Lee Model, particle physics, relativistic heavy ion physics, nontopological solitons and soliton stars....

 personally. In the mid-1950s, Lee and another Chinese theoretical physicist, Chen Ning Yang, grew to question a hypothetical law in elementary particle
Elementary particle
In particle physics, an elementary particle or fundamental particle is a particle not known to have substructure; that is, it is not known to be made up of smaller particles. If an elementary particle truly has no substructure, then it is one of the basic building blocks of the universe from which...

 physics, the "Law of Conservation of Parity
Parity (physics)
In physics, a parity transformation is the flip in the sign of one spatial coordinate. In three dimensions, it is also commonly described by the simultaneous flip in the sign of all three spatial coordinates:...

". Their library research into experimental results convinced them that this "Law" was valid for electromagnetic
Electromagnetism
Electromagnetism is one of the four fundamental interactions in nature. The other three are the strong interaction, the weak interaction and gravitation...

 interactions and for the strong nuclear force. However, this "Law" had not been tested for the weak nuclear force, and Lee & Yang's theoretical studies showed that was probably not true. Lee and Yang worked out the pencil & paper design of several experiments for testing the "Conservation of Parity" in the laboratory, and then Lee turned to Wu for her expertise both in choosing one and then actually working out the hardware manufacture, set-up, and laboratory procedures for carrying out the experiment.

Wu chose to do this for an experiment that involved taking a sample of radioactive cobalt 60
Cobalt 60
Cobalt 60 is a Front 242 side project featuring Front 242's Jean-Luc de Meyer and Dominique Lallement. They are an electro-industrial/EBM group, though they frequently use guitars, an uncommon feature among artists of the genre...

 and cooling to cryogenic temperatures with liquid gasses. Cobalt 60 is an isotope that decays by beta particle
Beta particle
Beta particles are high-energy, high-speed electrons or positrons emitted by certain types of radioactive nuclei such as potassium-40. The beta particles emitted are a form of ionizing radiation also known as beta rays. The production of beta particles is termed beta decay...

 emission, and Dr. Wu was also an expert on beta decay
Beta decay
In nuclear physics, beta decay is a type of radioactive decay in which a beta particle is emitted from an atom. There are two types of beta decay: beta minus and beta plus. In the case of beta decay that produces an electron emission, it is referred to as beta minus , while in the case of a...

. The extremely low temperatures were needed to reduce the amount of thermal vibration of the cobalt atoms to practically nil. Also, Dr. Wu needed to apply a constant and uniform magnetic field across the sample of cobalt 60 in order to cause the spin axes of the atomic nuclei
Atomic nucleus
The nucleus is the very dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom. It was discovered in 1911, as a result of Ernest Rutherford's interpretation of the famous 1909 Rutherford experiment performed by Hans Geiger and Ernest Marsden, under the direction of Rutherford. The...

 to all line up in the same direction.

For this cryogenic work, Dr. Wu needed the expertise and the facilities of the National Bureau of Standards in liquid gases to aid her. She thus traveled to NBS headquarters in Maryland
Maryland
Maryland is a U.S. state located in the Mid Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east...

 with her equipment to carry out the experiments.

Lee and Yang's theoretical calculations predicted that the beta particles from the cobalt 60 atoms would be emitted asymmetrically if the hypothetical "Law of Conservation of Parity" proved invalid. Dr. Wu's experiments at the NBS showed that this is indeed the case: parity is not conserved under the weak nuclear interactions. This was also very soon confirmed by her colleagues at Columbia University in different experiments, and as soon as all of these results were published—in two different research papers in the same issue of the same physics journal—the results were also confirmed at many other laboratories and in many different experiments.

For their taking the lead in all of this, and for their theoretical work on the question of parity in the physics of subatomic particle
Subatomic particle
In physics or chemistry, subatomic particles are the smaller particles composing nucleons and atoms. There are two types of subatomic particles: elementary particles, which are not made of other particles, and composite particles...

s, Lee and Yang were quickly awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1957.

An additional important experiment carried out by Dr. Wu was the confirmation of the Pryce and Ward
John Clive Ward
John Clive Ward , was a British-Australian physicist. His most famous creation was the Ward-Takahashi identity, originally known as "Ward Identity" . This celebrated result, in quantum electrodynamics, was inspired by a conjecture of Dyson and was disclosed in a one-half page letter typical of...

 calculations on the correlation of the quantum polarizations of two photons propagating in opposite directions. This was the first experimental confirmation of quantum results relevant to a pair of entangled photons as applicable to the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paradox
EPR paradox
The EPR paradox is a topic in quantum physics and the philosophy of science concerning the measurement and description of microscopic systems by the methods of quantum physics...

, or situation.

Other work and accomplishments


Wu's book titled Beta Decay (published 1965) is still a standard reference for nuclear physicists.

Dr. Wu later conducted research into the molecular changes in the deformation of hemoglobin
Hemoglobin
Hemoglobin is the iron-containing oxygen-transport metalloprotein in the red blood cells of all vertebrates, with the exception of the fish family Channichthyidae, as well as the tissues of some invertebrates...

s that cause sickle-cell disease
Sickle-cell disease
Sickle-cell disease , or sickle-cell anaemia or drepanocytosis, is an autosomal recessive genetic blood disorder with overdominance, characterized by red blood cells that assume an abnormal, rigid, sickle shape. Sickling decreases the cells' flexibility and results in a risk of various...

.

Wu's career presented a number of breakthroughs.
  • Wu is believed to be the only Chinese person to have taken part in the Manhattan Project.

She also was the first:
  • Chinese-American to be elected into the U.S. National Academy of Sciences;
  • Female instructor in the Physics Department of Princeton University
    Princeton University
    Princeton University is a private research university located in Princeton, New Jersey, United States. The school is one of the eight universities of the Ivy League, and is one of the nine Colonial Colleges founded before the American Revolution....

    ;
  • Woman with an honorary doctorate from Princeton University;
  • Female President of the American Physical Society
    American Physical Society
    The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

    , elected in 1975;
  • Person selected to receive the Wolf Prize in Physics (1978), in other words, she was the winner in the first year in which this Prize was awarded;


Wu was one of the first Chinese-American educators who returned to mainland China for visits in 1970s. She also was the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after her.

Honors


Wu won numerous honors and recognitions:
  • Member of the National Academy of Sciences
    United States National Academy of Sciences
    The National Academy of Sciences is a corporation in the United States whose members serve pro bono as "advisers to the nation on science, engineering, and medicine." As a national academy, new members of the organization are elected annually by current members, based on their distinguished and...

     (elected 1958)
  • Research Corporation
    Research Corporation
    The Research Corporation for Science Advancement is an organization in the United States devoted to the advancement of science, funding research projects in the physical sciences. It was also a major supporter of the research that led to the presentation of Interlingua in 1951...

     Award 1958
  • Achievement Award, American Association of University Women
    American Association of University Women
    The American Association of University Women advances equity for women and girls through advocacy, education, and research. It was founded in 1882 by Ellen Swallow Richards and Marion Talbot...

     1960
  • John Price Wetherill Medal, The Franklin Institute, 1962
  • Comstock Prize in Physics
    Comstock Prize in Physics
    The Comstock Prize in Physics is awarded by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences "for recent innovative discovery or investigation in electricity, magnetism, or radiant energy, broadly interpreted."...

    , National Academy of Sciences 1964
  • Chi-Tsin Achievement Award, Chi-Tsin Culture Foundation, Taiwan 1965
  • Scientist of the Year Award, Industrial Research Magazine 1974
  • Tom W. Bonner Prize
    Tom W. Bonner Prize
    The Tom W. Bonner Prize in Nuclear Physics is an annual prize awarded by the American Physical Society's Division of Nuclear Physics. Established in 1964, and currently consisting of $7,500 and a certificate, the Bonner Prize was founded in memory of physicist Tom W. Bonner...

    , American Physical Society
    American Physical Society
    The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...

     1975
  • National Medal of Science
    National Medal of Science
    The National Medal of Science is an honor bestowed by the President of the United States to individuals in science and engineering who have made important contributions to the advancement of knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and...

     (U.S.) 1975
  • Wolf Prize in Physics
    Wolf Prize in Physics
    The Wolf Prize in Physics is awarded once a year by the Wolf Foundation in Israel. It is one of the six Wolf Prizes established by the Foundation and awarded since 1978; the others are in Agriculture, Chemistry, Mathematics, Medicine and Arts. The Prize is often considered the most prestigious...

    , Israel 1978
  • Honorary Fellow Royal Society of Edinburgh
    Royal Society of Edinburgh
    The Royal Society of Edinburgh is Scotland's national academy of science and letters. It is a registered charity, operating on a wholly independent and non-party-political basis and providing public benefit throughout Scotland...

  • Fellow American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    The American Academy of Arts and Sciences is an independent policy research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies of complex and emerging problems. The Academy’s elected members are leaders in the academic disciplines, the arts, business, and public affairs.James Bowdoin, John Adams, and...

  • Fellow American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Association for the Advancement of Science
    The American Association for the Advancement of Science is an international non-profit organization with the stated goals of promoting cooperation among scientists, defending scientific freedom, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting scientific education and science outreach for the...

  • Fellow American Physical Society
    American Physical Society
    The American Physical Society is the world's second largest organization of physicists, behind the Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft. The Society publishes more than a dozen scientific journals, including the world renowned Physical Review and Physical Review Letters, and organizes more than 20...



At the time of her death, Wu was Pupin Professor Emerita of Physics at Columbia.

External links