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Chinese, US scientists celebrate pioneering female physicist

By ZHANG ZHIHAO | | Updated: 2022-09-25 13:20
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Physicists from China and the United States celebrated the 110th anniversary of the birth of renowned female nuclear physicist Wu Chien-shiung on Saturday by championing the fruitful history of China-US science cooperation and the mutual desire to continue exchanges and cooperation to push scientific frontiers and address global challenges.

Born in the town of Liuhe, Taicang in Jiangsu province, on May 31, 1912, Wu may not be a household name in China compared to other notable female scientists such as Marie Curie and Tu Youyou. But the Chinese-American researcher was globally recognized as one of the most influential nuclear physicists of the 20th century who fundamentally changed how we view the universe.

For decades, scientists thought the universe was perfectly symmetric at the quantum mechanics level. However, in 1956, theoretical physicists Lee Tsung-dao and Yang Chen-Ning discovered a theory that put this conservation of parity into question.

The two young scientists approached Wu, who was working at Columbia University at the time, to help them test their theory. Her now famous experiment of measuring the decay of radioactive cobalt-60 proved that parity was not conserved.

The finding sent a shockwave through the international scientific community. The next year, Lee and Yang won the Nobel Prize in physics.

During Wu's anniversary celebration symposium on Saturday, Wan Gang, president of the China Association for Science and Technology, said in a letter to the event that Wu's extraordinary achievements in experimental physics has substantially contributed to the progress of the discipline.

Wu is a woman of many "firsts", Wan said. She was the first female honorary doctor of Princeton University, the first Chinese American member of the United States' National Academy of Sciences, and the first female president of the American Physical Society.

"She has always been a role model for generations of Chinese and American young scientists, especially women scientists, inspiring them to strive for excellence in their pursuit of science," he said.

Wan said Wu had always been committed to promoting exchanges and cooperation between China and the United States in the fields of scientific research and education, leading to many successful collaborations.

For example, China-US cooperation in the field of high-energy physics marked the beginning of collaboration between the science communities of the two countries. Another example was the China-US Physics Examination and Application, a program that helped China train nearly 1,000 outstanding physicists.

"To commemorate Dr. Wu, we should carry forward the spirit of scientists represented by her, the spirit of unremittingly exploring the endless frontiers of science," he said.

"We need to work together to address common global challenges, so as to make our due contributions to the sustainable development of human society and the protection of the earth, our beautiful home."

As home to the largest number of science and technology professionals in the world, Wu said CAST is committed to enhancing openness, trust and cooperation with the international science community.

"We look forward to working together with our American colleagues to cement the friendship and promote exchanges and cooperation among scientists of the two countries, so as to jointly make more contributions to the advancement of science and technology and the welfare of the people," he said.

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