Wu, Chien-Shiung

Wu, Chien-Shiung chyĕnˈ-shyo͝ongˈ wo͞o [key], 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 Project early in World War II, she helped develop a process to enrich uranium ore to produce the fuel for the atomic bomb. In 1944, she accepted a position at Columbia Univ., where her research helped to destroy the “law of conservation of parity,” which had been assumed to be a fundamental law of nature; it predicted that beta particles, 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 Lee and Chen-ning Yang, 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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