Chien Shiung Wu grew up in early-twentieth century China with parents who recognized her brilliance and refused to accept societal constraints that devalued female intellect. Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, written by Teresa Robeson and illustrated by Rebecca Huang (published in 2019), chronicles how her parent’s decision to open their own school so she could receive a formal education set her on a path to became a pioneering physicist. Wu’s work on radioactive uranium separation was integral to the Manhattan project and the development of the atomic bomb. She also proved beta decay and disproved the Law of Parity, all while facing gender and racial discrimination.
When you’re finished reading Queen of Physics, ask kids these comprehension questions:
- What is physics?
- Wu – as a woman – had to fight for her education in the early twentieth century. What schools did she attend, and how far was each one from her home? Kids should be able to point out a pattern!
In China, cultural naming traditions are very important, and quite different from those in the U.S.! In fact, Wu Chien Shiung’s surname (last name) is listed first on the cover of the book! For our Rosie Reads activity, spend some time researching Chinese naming conventions. Follow it up by exploring how the meaning of Wu’s name – “courageous hero” – plays out in the book. How is Wu courageous? How does she react to challenges, from leaving home for school to being passed over for the Nobel Prize three times in the favor of men? Have fun with it, and suggest that kids look up the meanings of their names. Do they think the meanings reflect their own personalities and experiences?
Can’t get enough of Wu Chien Shiung? We can’t either, so we created a Wu Chien Shiung costume! It’s perfect for the dress-up box or Halloween, and super easy to put together!