The United States Postal Service will release a new postage stamp in 2021 honoring the life and achievements of Chinese American nuclear physicist Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, USPS announced.
The stamp is featured next to a short summary on the Postal Service website:
“Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) was one of the most influential nuclear physicists of the 20th century. During a career that spanned more than 40 years in a field dominated by men, she established herself as the authority on conducting precise and accurate research to test fundamental theories of physics.”
However, these few sentences only barely reflect her many achievements as a scientist, a woman, and an Asian immigrant to the United States.
According to NPS, Wu was born and raised in a small fishing village north of Shanghai, China. She attended school even when it was relatively uncommon for girls to do so. Still, Wu graduated top of her class with a degree in physics from what is now Nanjing University. Enrolling at UC Berkeley in 1936, Wu graduated four years later with a PhD in physics. She then went on to become the first female faculty member of the Physics department at Princeton University.
Soon joining the U.S. government’s Manhattan Project during WWII, Wu developed improved ways to measure nuclear radiation levels. According to Atomic Heritage, she is believed to be the only Chinese American who participated in the project.
After the war, Wu became a full professor at Colombia University in 1958. But NPS reports that her pay as professor was not raised to be equal to her male colleagues’ until 1975.
The sexism Wu faced in a male-dominated scientific field throughout those years was painfully apparent when only her male colleagues received a Nobel Prize in Physics for a theory she disproved on nuclear particles and radioactivity. New York Historical Society shares her inquiry to the audience in a symposium at MIT: “I wonder whether the tiny atoms and nuclei have any preference for either masculine or feminine treatment,” she said.
According to NPS, she finally began receiving awards with the Comstock Prize in Physics, and Wolf Prize in Physics (1978). In addition to being the first woman to be president of the American Physical Society (1975), she also was the first woman to receive Princeton University’s honorary doctorate award.
With so many scientific contributions, including a book she wrote on beta decay that is still widely popular among nuclear physicists today, recognition of Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu is long overdue.
On Twitter, Jada Yuan —Wu’s granddaughter — expressed her feelings over her late grandmother’s face on the USPS Forever stamp:
“Some truly exciting news: my grandmother, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, is going to be on a Forever stamp from the U.S. Postal Service. She was a nuclear physicist who helped disprove a fundamental law of nature and changed a field dominated by men. We’re so grateful for the honor,” Jada wrote. “[My grandmother] also loved overfeeding her granddaughter and taking her to the zoo.”
The Chien-Shiung Wu Forever stamp was designed by Art Director Ethel Kessler with original art by Kam Mak. It joins a collection of two other Asian American-inspired stamps AsAmNews reported on last month. They include a Lunar New Year (Year of the Ox) Forever Stamp and one honoring Japanese American soldiers who served in World War II.
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