Chien-Shiung Wu – In Honor of Women’s History Month

By Rita Patel

Chien-Shiung Wu is the last of my three-part series for Women’s History Month. Born in China in the early 1900s, Chien-Shiung was blessed with a family that always encouraged her to pursue her educational aspirations. After immigrating to the United States during the Great Depression she successfully received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley. Like Maria, Chien-Shiung was then recruited to join efforts in the Manhattan Project, even though she had no idea what the project is about.

Chien-Shiung WuChien-Shiung was so well-versed in the field that although her interviewers had not talked about the details of the project she would be joining, they had left equations they were working through on the blackboards in the room. In a mere two days, Chien-Shiung had used her expert-physics skills to determine what the secret project was about and agreed to join.

Chien-Shiung was later contacted about issues with start-up and shutdown at Hanford. In one of the only instances of a Ph.D. thesis being useful, Chien-Shiung’s work on fission product Xenon-135 proved to be the same problem that was occurring at Hanford. She hadn’t even published her paper on the work.

Cecelia, Maria, and Chien-Shiung are just a few of the plethora of women who continue to defy the odds and push the boundaries of modern science. Perseverance, commitment, and honest effort will always reap rewards. Just make sure you’re using the scientific method.

What female scientist do you remember during Women’s History Month? Leave me a message about your favorite female scientist.

 


 

ANS Nuclear Cafe author Rita PatelRita Patel is a double-graduate from the University of Pittsburgh with bachelor and master of science degrees in Materials Science Engineering, as well as a certificate in Nuclear Engineering. She has been an ANS national member since 2011 and currently works in Washington, D.C. You can experience her witticisms first hand on Twitter via @RitaTherPita.

4 thoughts on “Chien-Shiung Wu – In Honor of Women’s History Month

  1. Elly de la Vega

    And where would Physics or the Manhattan Project be without the work
    of Lise Meitner.

  2. Madeline Feltus

    Dr. Wu did not complain and was never bitter about not getting kudos for the Nobel Prize which went to theoretical physicists. But she told me once that precise engineering was needed to do any physics experiments, and that long hours, hard work would be needed. She was excited that I wanted to know physics in depth, but majoring in nuclear engineering. She told me about her experience doing the experiments over the Christmas/winter holiday, over her husband’s objections (!!!) and trying to get the contraption to work. If you ever get a chance to visit the National Bureau of Standards NIST facility headquarters, you can see the actual test equipment. I remember the first time I saw it when I visited the NIST, displayed in the lobby. It looks so simple, even archaic but it was used for a landmark experiment. See:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_experiment
    and
    https://www.nist.gov/pml/reversal-parity-law-nuclear-physics

  3. Madeline Feltus

    I first met Dr. C.S. Wu at Columbia University when she was teaching nuclear physics. Even though I was a senior year nuclear engineering (NE) undergraduate student, I sat in on her graduate level course lectures in 1977 because they were much more informative than my NE required physics course. She graciously let me audit the course, do the assignments etc., answered my questions about her non-conservation of parity experiments and my other physics questions. Long after she retired from teaching, she surprised me, my advisor, Herbert Goldstein and PhD committee professors by coming to my doctoral defense in 1990! She had been quietly following my academic and professional career since 1977 and came to my public PhD defense lecture to be there for the celebrations afterwards!
    You can see highlights of her wonderful physics career at:
    http://www.nytimes.com/1997/02/18/us/chien-shiung-wu-84-dies-top-experimental-physicist.html

  4. Zaijing Sun

    Chien-Shiung Wu was a brilliant female physicist. She discovered the parity violation experimentally in beta decay of Cobalt-60. Two theoretical male physicists (Lee and Yang) share the Nobel price because predicting this. However, Dr. Wu, the most important experimentalist here, missed her opportunity. I am reluctant to say: gender discrimination played a role in Physics.