Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997)

Professor of Physics, Princeton University
Manhattan Project
Chien-Shiung Wu

In the early 1940s, Chinese-American physicist Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) became the first woman hired as a faculty member by Princeton’s physics department. Only a few years later in 1944, she left Princeton to work on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University. Wu worked to improve Geiger counters and develop better methods of large-quantity uranium enrichment. She also identified xenon poisoning, a condition that had temporarily shut down plutonium production at the Hanford B Reactor. Wu appears to have been the only person of Chinese descent to work on the Manhattan Project. 

After World War II, Wu remained at Columbia University where she devised experiments to test the “conservation of parity” law. In 1957, her  male colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for their work on this law, but Wu was deprived of the recognition she deserved for her contributions to this work.

Wu fought for gender equality throughout her life. She was also an outspoken critic of the Chinese government for repressing the voices of its people, especially during the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. 

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