Queen of Physics

Queen of Physics
Teresa Robeson and Rebecca Huang

Subtitled How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secerts of the Atom, this is a fascinating exploration of the life of a woman who overcame the barriers of gender and race to become a ground breaking experimental physicist.

Born in China in 1912, Wu Chien Shiung (meaning Courageous hero) was fortunate in having forward thinking parents. Her mother even opened a school in Liuhe to encourage parents to educate their daughters, so it was waiting by the time her own daughter was ready to start.

But it wasn’t long before Chien Shiung had outgrown her parents’ school

so they sent her fifty miles away to the city of Suzhou. There, despite opting for teacher training, she developed a passion for science, especially physics. Not only that but she became her fellow students’ leader in an underground group to fight against the injustices of the oppressive Chinese government.

Eventually her talents took her far from home, first to Berkley and then to New York’s Columbia University to continue her studies in beta decay.

Three times her outstanding work deserved the Nobel Prize but it was those men who had enlisted her help in their research, not Chien Shiung who won the award.

Not only that but she was passed over for jobs she wanted  ‘because she was a woman, because she was Asian’.

Sadly she never saw her parents again but Chien Shiung continued achieving amazing things in physics while continuing to fight prejudice against woman and Asians and in 1963 was declared ‘Queen of Physics’ by Newsweek.

Robeson explains scientific concepts in a straightforward, accessible manner, providing at the end of the book a summary of her subject’s life and there’s also a glossary and suggestions for further reading. Rebecca Huang’s mixed media illustrations add further inspiration to this biography that is rich in potential for classroom discussion as well as for aspiring young scientists.

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