Wu, Chien-Shiung(chyĕn`-shyo͝ong` wo͞o), 1912–97, Chinese-American physicist. She emigrated to the United States from China in 1936 and received a Ph.D. from the Univ. of California, Berkeley, in 1940. Joining the Manhattan ProjectManhattan Project,
the wartime effort to design and build the first nuclear weapons (atomic bombs). With the discovery of fission in 1939, it became clear to scientists that certain radioactive materials could be used to make a bomb of unprecented power. U.S.
..... Click the link for more information. early in World War II, she helped develop a process to enrich uranium ore to produce the fuel for the atomic bombatomic bomb
weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy atomic nuclei. The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex., laboratory and successfully tested on July 16, 1945.
..... Click the link for more information. . In 1944, she accepted a position at Columbia Univ., where her research helped to destroy the "law of conservation of parityparity
or space parity,
in physics, quantity that refers to the relationship between an object or process and the image that it can produce in a mirror. For example, any right-handed object will produce a mirror-image counterpart that is identical to it in every way
..... Click the link for more information. ," which had been assumed to be a fundamental law of nature; it predicted that beta particlesbeta particle,
one of the three types of radiation resulting from natural radioactivity. Beta radiation (or beta rays) was identified and named by E. Rutherford, who found that it consists of high-speed electrons.
..... Click the link for more information. , which are emitted by a radioactive nucleus, would fly off in any direction, regardless of the spin of the nucleus. In 1957, using atoms of cobalt-60, Wu showed that beta particles were more likely to be emitted in a particular direction that depended on the spin of the cobalt nuclei. This confirmed a proposal made in 1956 by two Chinese-born American physicists, Tsung-Dao LeeLee, Tsung-Dao
, 1926–, American physicist, b. China, Ph.D. Univ. of Chicago, 1950. He was a member (1951–53) of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton; and professor of theoretical physics there (1960–63).
..... Click the link for more information. and Chen-ning YangYang, Chen-ning
, 1922–, American physicist, b. China, Ph.D. Univ. of Chicago, 1948. Yang was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, N.J. from 1949 to 1955, and a professor of physics there from 1955 to 1965.
..... Click the link for more information. , who shared the 1957 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory. Wu received many awards in recognition of her contributions to atomic research and the understanding of beta decay and the weak interactions, including being the first living scientist to have an asteroid named after her.
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Wu, Chien-Shiung(1929– ) physicist; born in Shanghai, China. She came to the U.S.A. for graduate study (1936), taught at Smith College and Princeton, then joined Columbia University (1944–81). She performed experiments on the parity principle in beta emission (1957, 1963). Her later research included studies of muonic and pionic X-rays, spectroscopic examinations of hemoglobins, and ultra-low temperature physics.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.