By Shruti Rajkumar, AsAmNews Intern
The U.S. Postal Service honored Chinese American nuclear physicist Chien-Shiung Wu today with a Forever Stamp to commemorate her influential work in her field.
“It is a privilege to represent the United States Postal Service as we honor the life and achievements of Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, one of the most influential nuclear physicists of the 20th century.” Chief Retail and Delivery Officer and executive vice president Kristin Seaver said during the event. “And we believe that today, the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, is perfect timing for this dedication,”
The virtual ceremony, which was held on the Postal Service’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, included pre-recorded segments from Seaver, Dr. Wu’s granddaughter Jada Yuan, Wu’s colleagues and family, and physics professors in which they spoke about Dr. Wu’s life, accomplishments, and influence in the field. The Chien-Shiung Wu Forever Stamp was revealed at the end by Seaver.
The stamp was designed by art director Ethel Kessler with original art by Kam Mak. The art features a detailed portrait of Wu wearing a black-and-white high-collared traditional Chinese gown, or qipao, against a background painted with a highly valued pigment called lapis lazuli. The pigment is historically used in artistic depictions of angels, nobility and the Virgin Mary, according to USPS.
During a career that spanned more than 40 years in a field dominated by men, Dr. Wu made significant contributions to the understanding of radioactivity and the structure of the universe.
She left China when she was 24 years old to attend college in the United States, and went on to help discover a fundamental law of physics known as the non conservation of parity, as well as help harness the power of the atom through her work on the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Yuan, Dr. Wu’s granddaughter recalled the time she realized her grandmother was a famous scientist.
“I didn’t know my grandma was famous when we were growing up, she was just my grandma,” Yuan said during the event.
At age 12 and 13, Yuan began to notice photos of grandmother with important people when she would visit her grandmother’s apartment.
“I started asking who was in the photos,” Yuan said. “And it was Pope John Paul, and Muhammad Ali and…leader of China.”
Dr. Wu was also a lifelong advocate for women in education and science.
“She would always mention that the number of women in senior faculty member positions was very limited,” Dr. Vincent Yuan, Dr. Wu’s son, said. “She thought that was not fair, not just that they might not get their accomplishments recognized, but she [also] thought it was terrible that women couldn’t have necessarily the same ambitions and hopes that men could if these opportunities were limited.”
Dr. Wu was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and was also the first female recipient of an honorary Doctor of Science Degree from Princeton University and the first woman to serve as president of the American Physical Society. Seaver said that she is known as the First Lady of Physics.
“Even to the present day, women are extremely underrepresented in physics,” professor of physics at Villanova University Dr. Georgia Papaefthymiou said during the event. “In some ways she was ahead of her time, because back in the 1970s, when I was with her, she was very supportive of women physicists.”
The stamp can be seen as a source of inspiration for women in science.
“It’s so inspirational that this stamp [bears] the image of a woman who pushed the boundary of understanding in a profound way and for it to be released on a day that itself is dedicated to celebrating and inspiring women in science,” professor of physics at Columbia University Brian Greene said during the event.
Yuan added that she believes her grandmother would be honored to receive the Forever Stamp.
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