Wu was born to Wu Zhong- Yi and Fan Fu-Hua in Taicang, a small town in China. She was the second child out of three. Along with a huge support from her educated parents, she was well-framed in academics of math and physics.
After her elementary school, she enrolled in female boarding school, then the School teaching program. At the age of 18, she attended the most famous university in China, Nanjing University. Inspired by Marie Curie, she switched her major from mathematics to physics. There, in 1934, she earned a B.S. degree with highest honors.
In 1936, she visited the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Professor Ernest Lawrence, who later won the Nobel Prize, and her future husband, Luke Chia-Yuan. He was also studying physics at UC Berkeley and encouraged Wu to stay in the U.S. and continues her graduate studies. After Wu earned a Ph.D. in 1940, the couple married and had a son after 7 years. Their son, Vincent Wei-Cheng Yuan, later became a nuclear scientist.
Due to her keen intellect in physics in her time, she was titled by several nicknames, “the First Lady of Physics,” “the Chinese Madame Curie,” and the “Queen of Nuclear research.” Wu made well-known experimental work throughout her life. The best examples are Manhattan Project, Parity Violation. In 1944, she started to work at Manhattan Project at Columbia University. There, she developed a technique to generate uranium ore that is fuel for atomic bombs. Her book Beta Decay written in 1965 is still a valuable reference book for nuclear physicists today. “Beta Decay was like… a dear old friend. There would always be a special place in my heart reserved especially for it.”
Wu spent her later years as a physics professor at Columbia University. After she retired, she led education programs in Taiwan and the U.S. She also strongly advocated girls of STEM major and inspired tons of students. Wu died in 1997 at the age of 84.