Beta decay was... like a dear old friend. There would always be a special place in my heart reserved especially for it.
Chien-Shiung Wu was a notable female Chinese physicist. She studied and researched in the field of quantum physics, specifically, quantum statistics. She immigrated to the US and studied at the University of Berkeley, earning her Ph.D. Wu was one of the most accomplished female scientists of the 20th century. Her name can be roughly translated as "strong hero", which is very fitting.
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu was born in China on May 29, 1912 and died in 1997. Her father was a major influence, having opened one of the first girl’s schools in China. She initially studied at the National Central University in Nanjing. After four years there to earn her BS, she immigrated to the US and attended UC Berkeley, where she received her Ph.D. At UC Berkeley in 1942, she also met and married her husband, Dr. Luke C.L. Yuan. She initially started teaching at several places, then settled down at Columbia University. At Columbia, she taught and did a huge amount of research, including her 1957 conservation of parity experiments.
Her noted work revolves around quantum statistics. She studied the law of conservation of parity. Simply put as a metaphor, the law is as follows: when you spin a wet egg, water droplets will fly off equally in all directions. There is no difference between left and right spin. Dr. Wu did research and disproved this law, on which many other theorems and ideas in quantum physics were built. She found that, to keep the metaphor, more water spun off opposite the direction of spin then any other direction. This is important to quantum physics because many reactions, both real and theoretical, depend on parity, or equality. So, if the egg sheds water differently depending on whether you spin it right or left, the water might hit you, or something else that it shouldn’t. Now, if the egg were radioactive, then there would indeed be serious consequences if it spun the wrong way. Dr. Wu applied her research to nuclear physics and medicine as well.
She received many honors and awards. There is a little scandal in the scientific community over a Nobel Prize. She wasn’t awarded the prize for her 1957 parity experiments, but her two male fellow researchers were. That slight is made up for in the other rewards she received. She was a Member of the Academy of Sciences, elected to it shortly after her parity experiment. She was the 1974 Scientist of the year, and the recipient of the National Medal of Sciences award in 1975. In addition, Dr. Wu received honorary degrees from approximately 10 universities and research institutions. Dr. Wu is one of the more acclaimed 20th century physicists in the world.
Dr. Wu is an important figure in the brief history of quantum physics. Her contributions in the field are valued and varied. She is notable for several reasons. Aside from her research, she paved the way for many female scientists after her to pursue various fields of study. She was also a foreigner in a land of post World War II McCarthyistic bigotry. She survived well. Her contributions, both in physics and socially were very valuable.
1) http://www.physics.ucla.edu/~cwp/articles/wuobit.html: Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company.
2) http://www.physics.ucla.edu/~cwp/Phase2/Wu,_Chien_Shiung@841234567.html Copyright © CWP and Regents of the University of California 1997.