Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica

396: Chien-Shiung Wu

Experimental Physicist

Born: 31 May 1912 Liuhe, Taicang, Suzhou, China

Died: 16 February 1997, New York City, New York, United States of America

Wu helped work with the Manhattan Project to develop the first Atomic Bombs. She also helped create a better version of the Geiger Counter. While not known for certain, it is believed Wu was the only person of Chinese origin to work on the Manhattan Project.

Wu was lucky; growing up in a small village outside Shanghai, her father educated her despite it being outside the cultural norm. Once she received a basic education from her father, she went on to study physics at the university in Shanghai. After graduation, and with the financial help of one of her uncles, she arrived in San Francisco in 1936. She graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1940 with her PhD.

However, she was unable to gain a research position at a university, and became a physics instructor instead, working at both Princeton and Smith College. It was during this time she joined the Manhattan Project. After the war, she was able to secure a position at Columbia and began investigating beta decay. She went on to pursue other projects, including helping research identical nuclear particles and their reactions to outside forces. Her work helped prove that of other scientists who would go on to win the Nobel Prize in 1957, but Wu’s work was not acknowledged.

Wu was the first woman to be elected President of the American Physical Society.

She was awarded numerous other prizes and awards throughout her life, including being the first woman to earn an honorary doctorate from Princeton.

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Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky

Time Magazine's 100 Women of the Year (Wu appears in the 1945 article, "Chien-Shiung Wu")