Chien-Shiung Wu

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was a Chinese immigrant to America, where she began her work with the Manhattan Project and the development of the atomic bomb. Her biggest contribution to the world of science was a discovery that overturned a widely accepted law at the time. In science, “laws” are the most widely accepted and replicated observations in existence; so proving a scientific law wrong is an arduous task. The law was known as the Principle of Conservation of Parity (basically a very complicated way of proving the idea of symmetry) which assumed that particles that are mirror images of each other will act in identical ways.

Wu’s colleagues, Chen Ning Yang and Tsung Dao Lee, proposed an alternate theory and approached Wu to help them prove it. Wu accepted their offer and carried out several experiments using cobalt-60 that further proved the existing law was wrong. Her experiments were critical in that she was able to show that one particle was more likely to eject an electron than the other and they were therefore not symmetrical. Her observation had overturned a 30-year belief and shattered the conservation of parity law. Yang and Lee never recorded her observation and instead went on to win a Nobel Prize for their discovery. Wu was given no mention, though it was her experiment that truly disproved the foundational law that allowed further scientific fields to be opened up.