Chien-Shiung Wu: Encouraged young women to pursue science

By Elly Herrick, Editor-in-Chief

                     Elly Herrick

Chien-Shiung Wu’s first name in Chinese means ‘courageous hero’ which is a title she grew into as she became an American-Chinese physicist. Born in 1912, Wu’s love for math and science flourished at a very young age. Her parents continued to encourage her throughout high school, and by graduation, she placed first in her class. In Taiwan, she went to college at National Central University, where she pursued an undergraduate degree in Physics. 

After graduating, she moved on to National Chekiang University where she worked with a female professor named Jing-Wei Gu. Because of Gu, Wu’s confidence grew in her abilities. Gu also encouraged Wu to study in America. She emigrated from China to America in order to pursue a PhD in physics by attending University of California-Berkeley. There, she met other physicists including Luke Chia-Lu Yuan who became her husband two years after she earned her PhD. She worked on the Manhattan Project at Columbia University which established her as a leading expert in nuclear warfare. She stayed at the university and became the first female faculty member in the university’s physics department. 

Due to immigration laws, Wu was unable to fly back to her hometown, so in 1954 she became an official US citizen. After disproved a fundamental law of physics with two of her male colleagues —a stunning achievement — her two male scientists got Nobel Peace prizes for it while she got nothing, but she didn’t let it discourage her. She soon earned the National Academy of Sciences Cyrus B. Comstock Award in Physics in 1964, the National Medal of Science in 1975, and the Wolf Prize in Physics in 1978, among many other awards.

After she retired in 1981, she continued to encourage young women to pursue science and physics despite the gender gap. 

Why should we not encourage more girls to [study] science?” –Chien-Shiung Wu