Retired, Senior Research Scientist, Columbia University
Inducted in 1996
Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu 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 proving 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. This radically altered modern physical theory.
Dr. Wu, who immigrated to the United States from Shanghai in 1936 to study science, took 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 Price in 1957 for Dr. Tsung-Dao Lee and Dr. Chen-Ning Yang.
Well known for her precise and extensive experimental work in nuclear beta decay of atoms, she demonstrated the sources effects on the shape of the beta spectrum, thus clarifying some misinterpretation of beta theory. She also 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.
Dr. Wu died in 1997 at the age of 84.