Friday, June 1, 2012

Madame Wu - The First Lady of Physics

Ann Martin has started the blog Speaking Up  to hi-light the amazing women who are not being honoured by Google Doodles. Ann tells us that in the USA to date Google has honoured 15 individuals, and not a single woman. She says internationally, they have honoured 50 men, and 6 women in 2012.

Here in the UK Doodles in 2012 have honoured 17 men, and 0 women (count them for yourself at the link I have, it actually is quite amazing). We're even trailing the USA.

Ann's blog each month hi-lights some of the amazing women with birthday's that month who could have been honoured.

From her May article, I was particularly struck by the last entry - that of Chein-Shiung Wu (or Madame Wu, sometimes called the First Lady of Physics). She would have been 100 years old yesterday (born May 31st 1912).

Chien-Shiung Wu. Photographer unknown.

Chien-Shieng Wu is one of the 16 women profiled in a book I own called "Nobel Prize Women in Science", by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne. The edition I own was published just after the 1995 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to German Scientist Christiane Nusslein-Volhard and included a new chapter on her (the 16th). Those 16 women at the time included all 11 women to have won a Nobel Prize in science at that time (compared to around 500 men), plus 5 other women who played a critical role in a Nobel Prize winning piece of research but for some reason were not included in the honour.

Wu is one of these latter women. She was heavilly involved in the research which won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics (granted to Tsuang-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang) for demonstrating that parity is not conserved in interactions involving the weak force. Simply explained Lee and Yang proposed the experiement and Wu provided the experimental expertise to actually do it. That distinction was the justification the Nobel Committee gave for ignoring her contribution.

She did however win many other honours, in a time when it was doubly difficult for her as both a female physicist and a Chinese-American during a time of significant anti-Asian sentiment in the USA. She was the first Chinese-American elected to the National Acadamy of Sciences, the first female lecturer in Physics at Princeton among many other firsts.

Definitely a women we should all remember on the occasion of her 100th birthday!

No comments:

Post a Comment