Chien-Shiung Wu and Her Contributions to Nuclear Physics

Jeremy Guo
March 13, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Picture of Chien-Shiun Wu. (Source: Wikimedia Commons )

Chien-Shiung Wu was a Chinese-American physicist who made significant contributions to nuclear physics throughout her career. She was born in Liuhe, a village northeast of Shanghai, on May 13, 1912. [1] She studied at the National Central University in 1930, and graduated in 1934. [1] Eventually, she came to the US and studied at UC Berkeley, earning her PhD in 1940. [1] A picture of her is shown in Fig.. 1.

Work on the Manhattan Project

During the war the Manhattan Project was started in an attempt to build an atomic bomb before the Germans could. Wu participated in the SAM ("Special Allied Materials") project, which was concerned with producing enriched uranium using the gaseous diffusion method. [1] She also made other contributions such as helping to explain the stop-and-go phenomenon observed in the Hanford Reactor in Washington State, as some of her previous work involved the absorption cross-sections of neutrons by xenon and could provide a better understanding of the problem. [1]

Work Related to the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics

In 1956 Chien-Shiung Wu performed groundbreaking experiments on the conservation of parity in weak interactions. [2] This work ultimately resulted in Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, the physicists who had come up with the idea, being awarded the Nobel Physics Prize in 1957. Wu received a great deal of recognition for her role in the experiment, and eventually went on to become the first female president of the American Physical Society in 1975. [1]

© Jeremy Guo. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] T. C. Chiang, Madame Wu Chien-Shiung: The First Lady of Physics Research (World Scientific, 2013).

[2] C. S. Wu et al., "Experimental Test of Parity Conservation in Beta Decay," Phys. Rev. 105, 1413 (1957).