‘Minor Planet’ named for Particle Physicist Sau Lan Wu ’63

In 2012, Vassar alumna and renowned particle physicist Sau Lan Wu ’63 was a leader of the team of scientists who confirmed the existence of the Higgs boson, widely considered one of the basic building blocks of the universe. For this achievement and many others throughout her career, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has named a minor planet in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, “Saulanwu.” The announcement was published in the IAU bulletin in May. 

Sau Lan Wu  ‘63
Particle Physicist Sau Lan Wu ’63 was honored for her achievements with the naming of a minor planet after her by the International Astronomical Union. Photo: John Abbott

Wu is the Enrico Fermi Distinguished Professor of Physics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a key member of the ATLAS team of physicists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, whose ongoing research led to the confirmation of the discovery of the Higgs boson subatomic particle. The physicists’ key research tool is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), a 17-mile-long particle accelerator. Wu is also renowned for her leadership and participation in the discoveries of the gluon and the “charm quark,” two other key building blocks of the universe.

The minor planet is in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid was discovered on May 8, 2005, at Mount Lemmon Observatory in southern Arizona and referred to the IAU through the Minor Planet Center at Harvard University.

“This honor came as an unexpected surprise to me but this is big news,” said Wu. “I am very happy that my lifelong work is being recognized. I am especially intrigued by the fact that this planet will be there for millions of years. Therefore, my name, ‘saulanwu,’ will be in the universe for millions of years!”

Wu was nominated for the honor by Gregory Leonard, an astronomer in the University of Arizona’s Department of Planetary Science. Leonard said he had been following Wu’s career for many years and was delighted she and her team at CERN had been responsible for confirming the existence of the Higgs boson. “I’m a planetary geologist, not a physicist, but her discoveries are legendary, and I was shocked to learn that no minor planet had ever been named after her before this,” Leonard said. “Now she has this little world named in her honor, and it’s certainly well deserved. It has a very stable orbit, so it will be up there honoring her for millions of years.”

July 19, 2022