May Photos of the Month: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

May Photos of the Month: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month banner with flowers

Welcome to May! The pollen is clearing, flowers are in bloom, and I’m back to share more archival images from the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives (ESVA). This time, we’re celebrating Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! This month is also known as Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, or AAPI Heritage Month. 

The theme set by the Federal Asian Pacific American Council for 2024 is Advancing Leaders through Opportunity, and what better leaders to spotlight than the physical scientists who have helped redefine our understanding of the world around us?  

The umbrella of AAPI captures a very diverse and wide-ranging group of people, languages, and cultures. It encompasses any person with ancestry in East and Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or the Pacific Islands. But that’s not where it ends—there’s also a diversity of fields of study, occupation, and accolades within the AAPI community. In this post you’ll find a Manhattan Project scientist, multiple Nobel Prize laureates, activists, professors, and a former United States Secretary of Energy. 

Without further ado, let’s celebrate Asian Pacific American scientists with some archival images! 

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995) – Theoretical Physicist 

Man with dark hair left, woman in sari right

L-R: Subrahmanyan and Lalitha Chandrasekhar. Catalog ID: Chandrasekhar Subrahmanyan G2; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Gift of Kameshwar Wali 

Our teaching guide on black holes and telescopes describes Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar as “a Nobel Laureate, an immigrant, a suit and tie man, a lover of cornflakes,” and as “one of the great physicists of the 20th century.” 

Born in Lahore, India, in 1910, Chandrasekhar hailed from a family of academics and was heavily influenced by his uncle, Nobel laureate C. V. Raman. Despite some initial challenges, including a pivotal encounter with physicist Arnold Sommerfeld, which you can read about in this 2010 Physics Today article, Chandrasekhar persevered, delving into the realm of white dwarf stars. His groundbreaking work on the mass limit of white dwarfs, completed during his tenure at the University of Cambridge, sparked controversy and enduring friendships with eminent scientists like Arthur Eddington (see Wikipedia’s article on the Chandrasekhar-Eddington dispute for all the tea). Today, this work is called the Chandrasekhar limit, which describes the maximum mass a white dwarf star can be before it collapses under its own gravitational pull.  

Chandrasekhar’s tenure at Yerkes Observatory and the University of Chicago culminated in a Nobel Prize in 1983 “for his theoretical studies of the physical processes of importance to the structure and evolution of the stars” (Nobel Prize Outreach). Throughout his storied career, Chandrasekhar's dedication to scientific inquiry left an indelible mark on the field of astrophysics. And so has the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the eponymous space telescope launched in 1999. Unfortunately, the Chandra X-Ray Telescope is proposed for cancellation in the FY25 President’s Budget Request. For more about advocating for the preservation of the Chandra Observatory, visit  

A fun fact that I learned while researching for this blog: Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar met his wife Lalitha in a physics class! You can read about their meet-cute in this 2023 University of Chicago magazine article. Imagine how stoked I was to discover that we have an archival portrait of him and Lalitha in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.  

Chien-Shiung Wu (1912-1997) – Particle and Experimental Physicist 

Older woman with grey dress with hand on a technical panel

Chien-shiung Wu with the computer system used to control the 'exotic atoms' experiment. Catalog ID: Wu Chien-shiung F5; American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT), courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives 

Dubbed “The First Lady of Physics,” Chinese American particle and experimental physicist Chien-Shiung Wu was a Manhattan Project scientist and the first woman to lead the American Physical Society. Born near Shanghai, China, in 1912, Wu attended Ming De School, which was founded by her father and was one of the earliest Chinese schools to admit girls. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in physics from National Central University in Nanjing, graduating at the top of her class. There, she led a student activist group that advocated for a stronger stance from the Chinese government in response to Japanese raids. 

After NCU, Wu researched X-ray crystallography while teaching at Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, and later at the Institute of Physics at Academica Sinica. It was there that she found her calling. She immigrated to the US to earn her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley. There, she studied uranium fission under Ernest Lawrence and Emilio Segrè. Today, we can find many images of her in the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives. I love history! 

Chien-Shiung Wu didn’t stop there, though. She took a job at Columbia University and joined the Manhattan Project in 1944, where she worked to improve Geiger counters to better detect radiation. Wu remained at Columbia for the rest of her career.  

Like a few other notable women in physics, Chien-Shiung Wu is often considered someone who should have received a Nobel Prize.  Despite Wu’s pivotal contributions to what is now known as the Wu Experiment, only her collaborators, Tsung Dao Lee and Chen Ning-Yang, earned the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the experiment. If you’re an educator, check out our free teaching guide on Chien-Shiung Wu to teach your class about her early life and education. 

Yoichiro Nambu (1921-2015) – Theoretical Physicist 

Men shaking hands indoors; American flag to the left

L-R: President Ronald Reagan and Yoichiro Nambu. Catalog ID: Nambu Yoichiro C2; Photo by Jack Knightlinger, White House Official Photograph, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives 

Japanese American atomic physicist Yoichiro Nambu was an academic through and through— he earned his Bachelor of Science degree and his doctorate from the Imperial University of Tokyo while also teaching at Osaka City University. On the invitation of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, Nambu immigrated to the United States in 1952 (Britannica). Shortly thereafter, he took a research associate position at the University of Chicago, where he spent the rest of his career as a professor and researcher. During his time there, he helped develop string theory and made pioneering contributions to the newly emerging field of quantum chromodynamics (Fritzsch). In this photo, Nambu is shown receiving the National Medal of Science from President Ronald Reagan in 1983. 

In 2008, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics “for the discovery of the mechanism of spontaneous broken symmetry in subatomic physics” (Nobel Prize Outreach).  

Read about Nambu’s life in his own words in his 2004 AIP oral history interview transcript. 

Tsung-Dao Lee (b. 1926) – Particle Physicist 

Two men outdoors about to shake hands. Colorful flowers behind them.

L-R: Norman Ramsey and Tsung-Dao Lee. Catalog ID: Ramsey Norman C11; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Ramsey Collection 

Born in Shanghai, China, in 1926, Tsung-Dao Lee is a towering figure in theoretical physics. You’ll find other physicists in this post who were inspired by his Nobel Prize-winning research with fellow Chinese physicist Chen-Ning Yang. In China, Lee studied at several institutions in Hangzhou and Hunan Sheng before earning a scholarship to pursue his graduate studies at the University of Chicago in 1946. At UChicago, he became a doctoral student of Enrico Fermi (Brittanica). Like Yoichiro Nambu, Lee became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, where he worked with Chen-Ning Yang before finding a new home at Columbia University in 1953. There, Lee quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the youngest full professor in the university's history at just 29!  

At Columbia, Lee investigated the law of parity conservation with Yang. After drawing a few theoretical conclusions, the two went to Chien-Shiung Wu (our First Lady of Physics from earlier in this post) for experimental confirmation. In 1957, Lee was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics alongside Yang at the age of 31. This kicked off a distinguished and decorated career in particle physics for Lee, who taught and conducted research at Columbia University until his retirement in 2012. Here, he’s pictured chatting with physicist Norman Ramsey at the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Germany in 1994.  

Ennackal Chandy George Sudarshan (1931-2018) – Theoretical Physicist 

Man indoors in a tie holding a coffee cup

Informal portrait of  Ennackal Chandy George George Sudarshan. Catalog ID: Sudarshan Sudarshan B1; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Segrè Collection 

Considered a “titan of 20th century theoretical physics,” Ennackal Chandy George Sudarshan was the first recipient of the physics prize from the World Academy of Sciences in 1985 (TWAS). Growing up in Kottayam, Kerala, India, Sudarshan attended Madras Christian College in Chennai before obtaining his master’s degree from the University of Madras. At one point, he acted as a scribe for English mathematician Paul Dirac at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai (Physics Today). He joined the University of Rochester as a doctoral student, and it was there that he formulated the vector-axial (V-A) theory of the weak interaction. 

Sudarshan’s Physics Today obituary provides an in-depth analysis of his research in high-energy physics and quantum optics. It described him as “gentle, witty, humorous, and kind,” and “always ready to branch out into new fields.” The University of Texas hosts an archival symposium web exhibit that summarizes Sudarshan’s “7 Science Quests,” from his V-A theory to the Zeno effect, tachyons, and open systems.  

Syukuro Manabe (b. 1931) - Meteorologist and Climatologist 

Man outdoors with body of water behind him

Informal portrait of Syukuro Manabe during summer vacation aboard a sailing ship on Lake Ontario. Catalog ID: Manabe Syukuro B2; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives 

The colors and textures in this photo make me so happy. Shown here enjoying summer vacation sailing on Lake Ontario, Syukuro Manabe, our most recent Nobel laureate in this post (2021!), is a giant in climate modeling and meteorological sciences. He was born in 1931 in Shinritsumura (known today as Shingu Village) in Japan’s Ehime Prefecture and studied meteorology at the University of Tokyo from 1953 to 1958. 

After obtaining his PhD in 1958, he joined what is now NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Collaborating with meteorologist Joe Smagorinsky, he developed groundbreaking general circulation models of the atmosphere. Later, at Princeton University, where he's now a Senior Meteorologist, Manabe continued his research, focusing on coupled atmosphere-ocean-land systems. His work with geologist Kirk Bryan laid the foundation for understanding the impact of ocean dynamics on climate. Manabe's simulations demonstrated the correlation between rising carbon dioxide levels and global temperature increase. This is like the CliffsNotes version of an impressive career in meteorological science, so I recommend visiting our 2021 Nobel Prize Resources page to learn more about his award-winning climate research. 

We were lucky enough to snag an oral history interview with Manabe in 1998. You can hear him in his own words as he describes how he chose the physical sciences over biological sciences

Samuel Ting (b. 1936) – Particle Physicist 


Two men shaking hands indoors

L-R: Samuel Ting and Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden. Catalog ID: Ting Samuel C6; Photo by Jan Collsioo/Pressens Bild AB, courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Gift of Eleanor Dahl. 

As I mentioned before, you’ll find quite a few physics Nobel Prize laureates in this photo collection. While putting it together, I learned that particle physicist Samuel Ting was the first U.S. born Asian American person to earn this distinction in 1976.  

Excelling at the University of Michigan, Ting earned degrees in mathematics and physics before completing his PhD. Ting's career trajectory took him to esteemed institutions like CERN (of Large Hadron Collider fame) and Columbia University, where he made significant contributions to experimental physics, particularly in particle scattering phenomena and the discovery of new particles such as the J particle. The latter earned him that Nobel Prize mentioned earlier.  

In this photo, he is shaking hands with Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden, at the Nobel Award Ceremony.  

There is such an interesting collection of archival images of Samuel Ting in the ESVA that I think it warrants its own gallery. I certainly had a hard time narrowing down my options. We also have a fun 2020 oral history interview with Ting wherein he describes his upbringing in Michigan and China, his career, and his love for Michigan football. Go Blue! 


Daniel Tsui (b. 1939) - Experimental Physicist and Electrical Engineer 

Man smiling with hand on chin

Daniel Tsui. Catalog ID: Tsui Daniel A2; AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, W. F. Meggers Gallery of Nobel Laureates Collection 

Solid state physicist Daniel Tsui is another Nobel Prize laureate on our list. Born in 1939 in Henan Province, China, Tsui described his childhood memories as “filled with the years of drought, flood, and war… but also with my parents’ self-sacrificing love and the happy moments they created for me” (Nobel Prize Outreach). Because his parents were illiterate, they invested heavily in Tsui’s education, which led him to pursue formal education in Hong Kong and then medical school at National Taiwan University. Tsui received a full scholarship to Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois in 1958, where he learned of Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee’s 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics. He decided to follow their path and continue his studies at their institution, the University of Chicago.  

After obtaining his PhD in physics from the University of Chicago in 1967, Tsui joined Bell Labs, where his cutting-edge research focused on two-dimensional electron systems. His pioneering work alongside his colleague, physicist Horst Störmer, led to the discovery of the fractional quantum Hall effect, earning them the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998.  

Sau Lan Wu (b. c.1940s) – Particle Physicist 

Smiling woman points to a chart

Sau Lan Wu points to chart. Catalog ID: Wu Sau Lan B2; Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (Desy), Hamburg, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection; for permission to publish please contact Deutsches Elektronen Synchrotron (DESY) at [email protected] 

Best known for helping discover gluon, the “charm quark,” at Brookhaven National Lab in 1974, Sau Lan Wu is currently the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. But that’s a far cry from where she started. Sau Lan Wu grew up in poverty in the early 1940s during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, which is why there is no record of her exact birthdate. When Wu first came to the US in 1960 on a full ride scholarship to Vassar College, she had just $40 in her pocket and a love for science (Vassar). She graduated summa cum laude in 1963 and decided to pursue her PhD in the physical sciences at Harvard. She was the only woman accepted in her field that year. After Harvard, Wu went on to research at MIT, Brookhaven, and CERN, where she was a part of the team of researchers that is credited with discovering the Higgs particle. 

I could keep listing achievements and accolades, but do yourself a favor and deep dive into Sau Lan Wu’s life and career with this 2020 blog from our former Field Study intern Caitlin Shaffer. 

Steven Chu (b. 1948) - Atomic Physicist 

Man indoors smiling wearing a tie

Steven Chu. Catalog ID: Chu Steven A3; Copyright Stanford University, Linda A. Cicero / Stanford News Service; Stanford News Service Number 971008C-35 10/24/1997 

I know you’ve been wondering which physicist was the former United States Secretary of Energy, ever since I mentioned that one would be on this list. The wait is over! That physicist is Steven Chu, Nobel Prize in Physics laureate and William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Physics and Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University. He’s married to another physicist, Jean Chu (née Fetter).  

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Chu comes from a family of accomplished scholars and professionals. He earned his B.A. in mathematics and B.S. in physics from the University of Rochester in 1970, followed by a PhD in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1976. Chu's scientific career flourished as he researched atomic physics, quantum electronics, and biophysics, which lead to his groundbreaking work in laser cooling and atom trapping. In 1997, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work. Chu's interest in addressing energy and climate challenges led to his appointment as the Secretary of Energy under President Obama, where he spearheaded initiatives to invest in clean energy and reduce dependence on foreign oil (U.S. Department of Energy). In Chu’s 2020 AIP oral history, he describes his upbringing and research and ends with stories from his time as Secretary of Energy.  


Contemporary Physicists Spotlight: Brittany Kamai - Astrophysicist  

Woman sitting in an office chair indoors

Brittany Kamai on Global Science TV, June 2020. Source: Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

I’m going to close by highlighting an AAPI scientist who isn’t in the ESVA (yet), but has been making huge waves in astrophysics and activism.  

Brittany Kamai is a native Hawaiian astrophysicist who’s made significant strides in advancing scientific research and advocating for social change. As the founder of #ShutDownSTEM, Kamai has been instrumental in raising awareness about systemic inequalities in STEM fields and pushing for meaningful reforms to promote diversity and inclusion. 

Learn all about Kamai’s background in this 2018 interview with Vanguard STEM.  

You can also listen to Kamai discuss her research around gravitational wave detectors in this interview with Paul Sutter on Space Radio live.  



Giving AAPI Scientists their May Flowers 

Curating photo galleries for heritage months – it’s one of my many highlights of working with AIP. I learn so much about physics, about people, and about how we got to where we are today.  

As you can see, AAPI physical scientists can be found in every field, from the most microscopic particle physics to supernovae in space, these scientists are helping us make sense of the world around us. Let’s take the time to celebrate them this May.  

Although this month’s celebration is focused on Asian and Pacific American physical scientists, I wanted to share this selection of scientists of Asian origin that have a presence in the Emilio Segrè Visual Archives: C.V. Raman, Hideki Yukawa, Ling-An Wu, Satyendra Nath Bose, and  Chen-Ning Yang.  



Airhart, Marc. "UT Austin Mourns Passing of Sudarshan Sudarshan, Titan of 20th Century Physics." University of Texas at Austin. Last modified May 15, 2018.  

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Tsung-Dao Lee." Encyclopedia Britannica, March 21, 2024.  

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Yoichiro Nambu." Encyclopedia Britannica, January 14, 2024.  

Freeman Dyson; Chandrasekhar’s role in 20th-century science. Physics Today 1 December 2010; 63 (12): 44–48.  

Fritzsch, Harald. “The History of QCD.” CERN Courier, September 27, 2021.  

Interview of Samuel Ting by David Zierler on 2020 July 24,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,  

Interview of Steven Chu by David Zierler on May 18 & June 22, 2021, Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,  

Interview of Yoichiro Nambu by Babak Ashrafi on 2004 July 16,Niels Bohr Library & Archives, American Institute of Physics, College Park, MD USA,  

Library of Congress. "Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2023." Asian Pacific American Heritage Month 2023. Accessed April 22, 2024.  

M. K. Balasubramanya, M. D. Srinivas; Ennackal Chandy Sudarshan Sudarshan. Physics Today 1 April 2019; 72 (4): 63.

Nobel Prize Outreach. "Daniel C. Tsui Biographical." Last modified 2024.  

Nobel Prize Outreach. "Samuel C.C. Ting Biographical." Last modified 2024.  

Nobel Prize Outreach. "Yoichiro Nambu Facts." Last modified 2024.  

Nobel Prize Outreach. "Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Facts." Last modified 2024.  

Searcy, Maureen. "It was written in the stars." The University of Chicago Magazine. Last modified 2023.  

Shaffer, Caitlin. "Sau Lan Wu: Particle Physicist." American Institute of Physics. Last modified May 20, 2020.  

Space Radio Live!. "The Future of Gravitational Waves with Dr. Brittany Kamai." Podcast audio. February 25, 2021.  

Stanford Physics Department. "Steven Chu." Stanford University. Accessed April 22, 2024.  

U.S. Department of Energy. "Dr. Steven Chu." Accessed April 14, 2024.  

U.S. National Park Service. "Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, The First Lady of Physics (U.S. National Park Service)." Last modified December 20, 2022.  

VanguardSTEM. “#WCWinSTEM: Brittany Kamai, PhD.” Medium, October 31, 2018.  

Wu, Sau Lan. “From Vassar to the Discovery of the Higgs Particle.” From Vassar to the Discovery of the Higgs Particle - Vassar, the Alumnae/i Quarterly, 2014.  

About the Author

Skye Haynes

Moon from Yerkes Observatory

Skye Haynes

Skye Haynes is the Digital Marketing Specialist for the American Institute of Physics. She’s the face behind AIP’s social media posts, and helps keep our website up to date. Skye studied Astronomy, Communication, and Black Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, and earned her BA in 2019. When she isn’t posting and scrolling, Skye enjoys cooking on her #foodstagram and curling up on the couch with her family to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race reruns.

Caption: The Moon taken from Yerkes Observatory. AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Roman Collection

See all articles by Skye Haynes.

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