Chen Ning Yang Biography

Chen-Ning Franklin Yang, a China-born American physicist, is renowned for his groundbreaking work on the violations of the principle of parity conservation. In 1957, he and physicist Tsung-Dao Lee jointly received the Nobel Prize in Physics, becoming the first two Nobel Laureates from China. Yang’s research focuses on particle physics and statistical mechanics. His discovery that the conservation of parity is violated in certain nuclear processes revolutionized the field of particle physics and led to important advancements. Yang also made significant contributions to the development of the Yang-Mills theory, which is now a fundamental part of the Standard Model in physics. His remarkable scientific achievements have been recognized with numerous prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Science, the Benjamin Franklin Medal, and the Albert Einstein Medal.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Chen-Ning Franklin Yang, Yang Zhenning, Chen-Ning Yang, Yang Chen-Ning
  • Family: Spouse/Ex-: Chi-Li Tu (1950–2003), Fan Weng (2004–present), father: Yang Wu-Chih, mother: Luo Meng-hua
  • Born Country: China
  • Physicists
  • American Men
  • More Facts
  • Education: National Southwestern Associated University, Tsinghua University, University of Chicago
  • Awards: Nobel Prize in Physics (1957), Rumford Prize (1980), National Medal of Science (1986), Benjamin Franklin Medal (1993), Albert Einstein Medal (1995), Bogolyubov Prize (1996), Lars Onsager Prize (1999)

Childhood & Early Life

C.N. Yang was born on September 22, 1922, in Hofei, Anwhei, China. He was the eldest of five children born to Yang Wu-Chih and Luo Meng-hua. His father was a Professor of Mathematics at Tsinghua University in Beijing. Yang grew up on the Tsinghua University campus and completed his elementary and high school education in Beijing. In 1937, due to the Japanese invasion of China, his family moved to Hefei and then to Kunming in 1938. Yang adopted the name “Franklin” after reading the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.


Yang enrolled at National Southwestern Associated University and obtained a B.Sc. in physics in 1942. He completed his thesis on “Group Theory and Molecular Spectra” under the supervision of Ta-You Wu, a renowned atomic and nuclear theoretical physicist. He then obtained an M.Sc. in physics from Tsinghua University in 1944, completing his thesis on “Contributions to the Statistical Theory of Order-Disorder Transformations” under the guidance of Professor J.S. Wang. Yang received a United States government scholarship but was unable to move to the US until after the war. In the meantime, he studied field theory and worked as a teacher in a middle school.


In January 1946, Yang enrolled at the University of Chicago, where he was highly influenced by Professor E. Fermi. He worked on nuclear reactions and obtained his PhD in 1948, submitting his thesis on “On the Angular Distribution in Nuclear Reactions and Coincidence Measurements” under the supervision of theoretical physicist Edward Teller. After completing his PhD, Yang worked as an assistant to Enrico Fermi at the University of Chicago for about a year.

He then accepted an invitation from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1949, where he conducted his research work. It was at this institute that he reunited with Tsung-Dao Lee, whom he knew from his Kunming days, and they began a fruitful collaboration. In 1952, Yang became a permanent member of the Institute for Advanced Study, and in 1955, he was made a full professor.

In 1953, Lee left the Institute for Advanced Study and joined Columbia University in New York City as an Assistant Professor. However, Yang and Lee remained closely associated and met once a week to collaborate on their research. In 1956, they focused on studying a subatomic particle called the K-meson. After three weeks of intensive research, they concluded that parity is violated in some form of reagents. They suggested a series of experiments to test their hypothesis.

In 1957, their colleague Chien-Shiung Wu conducted tests devised by them and validated their theory. Yang’s book “Elementary Particles” was published in 1963. He became a US citizen in 1964. In 1965, he joined Stony Brook University in New York as the Albert Einstein Professor of Physics and the first director of the newly established Institute for Theoretical Physics, now known as the C.N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics.

Personal Life & Legacy

In 1950, Yang married Chih-li Tu, a teacher, and they had three children together. After the death of his first wife in 2003, Yang married Weng Fan in 2004. He is an agnostic. Yang was granted permanent residency in China in 2005, where he currently resides. Stony Brook University named their newest dormitory building “C.N. Yang Hall” in his honor in 2010.


C.N. Yang has been recognized for his contributions to physics and has received numerous honors and awards. He has been elected as a Fellow of many academies and societies, including the Royal Society, the American Physical Society, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He has also been conferred honorary doctorates by Princeton University, Moscow State University, and the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

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