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Xie Xide: In Sickness and Health

Updated: Mar 23

Hello everyone! I'm Tina and this is Women Weekly, where I post about one wonderful woman in the STEM field every Friday. This week, I wrote about a woman who devoted her whole life to science despite her serious health complications – Xie Xide.


Xie Xide was born in 1921 in Quanzhou, Fuijan, China. Her father was a physicist and her family valued education. Xide spent her childhood in Beijing, attending Yenching Elementary School. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Xide and her family fled to safety. Around this time, Xide contracted bone tuberculosis and spent several years bedridden. Even through sickness, Xide studied hard and when she recovered, she was admitted to Xiamen University to study physics and mathematics like her father. She graduated in 1946 and went on to teach at the University of Shanghai for a year.

Xide managed to get a scholarship that enabled her to get a master's degree in the USA. In 1949 she graduated from Smith College, Massachusetts in physics and two years later, she also earned a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from MIT.

In 1950, the Korean War broke out between North and South Korea. China and the USA were on opposite sides of the conflict, which resulted in many Chinese scholars working in the USA, including Xide, getting detained as political hostages. Xide's childhood friend, Cao Tianqin, helped to get her released. The couple soon got married in the UK and had a son.

Xide returned to China and started working at Fudan University, Shanghai, first as a lecturer, then as an associate professor, and finally as a Professor of Physics. In the meantime, she also served as an adjunct director at the Shanghai Institute of Technical Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. She was an outstanding educator and co-authored a widely used textbook, 'Semiconductor Physics'.

Around this time, Xide underwent several surgeries to treat her kidney stones and heart disease. In 1966, as a result of the Cultural Revolution, she was sent to do hard labour despite her illness and later found out she also had breast cancer.

In 1978, Xide was appointed Director of the Institute of Modern Physics at Fudan University, as well as the university's vice president. In 1983, Xide became the first woman to be the president of a university in China and was excellent in the position. She encouraged both students and teachers to study abroad, even founding the Center for American Studies. She later became an Advisor of Fudan University.

Xie Xide worked in many fields of physics and made important contributions to solid-state physics. She was also an outstanding educator, popular amongst students as well as teachers. Despite her troubled health, she dedicated her entire life to science, including her own body that she donated to China's medical research after she died in 2000.






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