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1922-present & 1926-present

Physics alumni (Yang, PhD'48 and Lee, PhD'50) and first Chinese nationals to win a Nobel Prize in Physics

Tsung-Dao Lee (right) and Chen Ning Yang (left).jpeg

Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee studied with Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago. Lee came to the U.S. on a Chinese government fellowship and was chosen by Fermi to join his lab as a doctoral student. He earned his PhD in 1950 and then worked as a research associate and lecturer at the University’s Yerkes Observatory from 1950-1953. Yang joined Fermi’s lab through a Tsinghua University Fellowship and earned his PhD in 1948. He served for a year as an instructor at the University before joining the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.


In 1956, Lee and Yang theorized that the law of conservation of parity, which assumes that nature is characterized by left-right symmetries, is violated by weak interactions. The breakdown of parity symmetry was confirmed experimentally by C.S. Wu at Columbia. Lee and Yang earned the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery, the first Chinese nationals to win the award. Lee, who was 30 at the time, stands as the third youngest person to ever win a Nobel in the sciences.


Yang went on to collaborate with Robert Mills, developing the Yang-Mills theory, which is the basis of our understanding of the Standard Model of particle physics. He is a fellow of the American Physical Society and Academia Sinica, and received the Albert Einstein Commemorative Award in 1957 and the National Medal of Science in 1986. Lee is known for his work in elementary particles, statistical mechanics, field theory, astrophysics, condensed matter physics, and turbulence. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Academia Sinica, among other organizations. His many awards and honors include the Albert Einstein Award in Science in 1957 and the Galileo Galilei Medal in 1979.

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Photo Source: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, [apf1-03706], Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library

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