Retired, Senior Research Scientist, Columbia University
Inducted in 1996
Chien-Shiung Wu died in 1997 at the age of 84.
Chien-Shiung was a senior research scientist at Columbia University when she performed an experiment that changed the accepted view of the structure of the universe. By revealing that identical nuclear particles do not always act alike, she disproved one of the widely accepted "laws" of physics, the Conservation of Parity, or the idea that the universe is not biased toward left or right-handed systems. Chien-Shiung’s research radically altered modern physical theory.
Well known for her precise and extensive experimental work in the nuclear beta decay of atoms, Chien-Shiung demonstrated the sources’ effects on the shape of the beta spectrum, thus clarifying some misinterpretation of beta theory. She made a systematic study on all orders of unique, forbidden transitions, further strengthening belief in the forbidden theory of beta decay. The discovery of non-conservation of parity resulted in a sudden liberation of thinking about the basic structure of the physical world and spurred unprecedented advances in both experimental and theoretical study of the weak interactions. Confirmation of the nuclear beta decay theory put the universal Fermi interaction on a much firmer foundation.
Chien-Shiung immigrated to the United States from Shanghai in 1936 to study science. She obtained her degree at the University of California at Berkeley. Her work at Columbia led physicists to discard the concept of parity conservation and provided some of the basic material that led to a Nobel Prize in 1957 for Dr. Tsung-Dao Lee and Dr. Chen-Ning Yang.