WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Chien-Shiung Wu (May 13, 1912–February 16, 1997)

Posted April 07, 2008 8:11 AM by julie

Chien-Shiung Wu was a pioneering Chinese born American physicist, with an expertise in radioactivity. In her lifetime, Wu radically altered modern physical theory and changed our accepted view of the structure of the universe.

Chien-Shiung Wu was born in 1912, in Shanghai. She was raised in Liuhe, a city about 30 miles from Shanghai. Her father, Wu Zhongyi was a proponent of gender equality, and founded Mingde Women's Vocational Continuing School. Wu was admitted to the National Central University in Nanjing in 1929. According to the government regulations of the time, normal school students entering universities needed to serve as teachers for one year. Because of these regulations, Wu went to teach in the Public School of China in Shanghai in 1929. From 1930 to 1934, she studied in the Physics Department of National Central University. For two years after her graduation, she did postgraduate study and worked as an assistant at Zhejiang University. In 1936, Wu moved to America and studied at the University of California, Berkeley where she received her PhD in 1940.

Wu's work included enriching uranium fuel by developing a process to separate uranium isotopes by gaseous diffusion for the Manhattan Project, and developing improved Geiger counters. Additionally, in 1956, her experiments led physicists to discard the concept that parity was conserved with a test method for beta decay. Her collaborator, Tsung-Dao Lee, was awarded the Nobel Prize for the development of these laws. Despite her contributions, Wu did not share the prize – a fact widely blamed on sexism by the selection committee. Wu later conducted research into the molecular changes in the deformation of hemoglobin, which causes sickle-cell disease.

Chien-Shiun Wu became the first woman to receive the prestigious Research Corporation Award and the Comstock Prize from the National Academy of Science. She was awarded this honor in recognition of her contributions to atomic research, and the understanding of beta decay and its weak interactions. The Comstock Prize is given only once every five years. Wu went on to be the recipient of many other awards including: National Medal in Science and the Wolf Prize in Physics. Her book Beta Decay (1965) is still a standard reference for nuclear physicists.

Wu's distinguished career has been characterized by a string of firsts. She was the first woman to teach Physics at, and receive an honorary doctorate of science from, Princeton University. She was also the first elected president of the American Physical Society, and to receive the Wolf Prize from the State of Israel. She was also the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after her.

Resources:

http://www.greatwomen.org/women.php?action=viewone&id=174

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chien-Shiung_Wu

http://cr4.globalspec.com/blogentry/5487/April-10-1940-MAUD-Committee-is-established

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