SHE-LOGY: I scheduled a SHE-LOGY post later this week to celebrate women in mathematics. But since today is the 133rd birthday of the first girl in this trilogy, I publish it now in her honor.
When you Google for the Greatest Mathematicians of all time, how many women do you expect to find among the top results? How about the mathematicians you can name off the top of your head? Newton, Galileo, Descartes, Pythagoras, Einstein, Pascal, Fibonacci, Kepler, Aristotle, Da Vinci. These are my top 10, the ones I remembered from the math books in school. ZERO female.
My goal is to replace at least 3 of these in my top 10, or maybe another top 10 list of all-female math icons. In the next social gathering when you find an opportunity to talk about math greats (And the odds of this happening to me, we may have to consult a statistician. Female, please.), I hope you’ll remember to include these three women.
EMMA NOETHER. 1882-1935.
THE most important woman in the history of mathematics, even called the greatest female mathematician ever, dubbed the Mother of Modern Algebra. She was considered the greatest master of abstract algebra, and is known for her groundbreaking contributions to theoretical physics.
Her Noether’s Theorem, considered the most important theorem in physics since the Pythagorean Theorem, explains the fundamental connection between symmetry and conservation laws. It helped Einstein solve the energy conservation paradox of General Relativity. In fact, some consider her Noether’s Theorem to be as important as Einstein’s highly-revered Theory of Relativity.
She became known as the woman that the world-renowned genius Albert Einstein called a “genius”. Specifically, “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began”. Read the full text of Einstein’s letter to the NY Times, honoring Emma on her death, here.
Her theorem is arguably “the backbone on which all of modern physics is built“, as claimed by the physicist Ransom Stephens. This is among the other descriptions of her and her work written in this insightful article from NY Times.
One wonders, despite the expanse and importance of her achievements and the influence of her works, how come she isn’t as famous as the other mathematicians? I do not even remember her being mentioned in any of my math books. Hopefully, with the increasing efforts, like the Google Doodle today in her honor, she will soon become a household name, and an addition to the role models for young girls interested in math.
SOFIA KOVALEVSKAYA. 1850-1891. Also known as Sophie Kowalevsky and Sonya.
The greatest female mathematician ever, before Emma Noether. She was influential in the development of Russian mathematics.
Her most famous work was the solution to the Kovalevskaya top, which has been called a “genuine highlight of 19th-century mathematics”. Read more about her achievements here.
What is even more notable among her achievements was her determination to learn and eventually teach mathematics. Because Russian women could not attend university, she self-taught advanced math in her teens, and found means (e.g. fake marriage) so that she can leave Russia and attend university in Germany. She eventually earned a doctorate for writing treatises particularly on partial differential equations, Abelian integers and Saturn’s rings.
Later on, she was appointed lecturer in mathematics at the University of Stockholm and became the first woman in that region of Europe to receive a full professorship. She continued to make great strides in mathematics, winning the Prix Bordin from the French Academy of Sciences in 1888 for an essay on the rotation of a solid body as well as a prize from the Swedish Academy of Sciences the next year. (Source: Smithsonian.com)
The Sonya Kovalevsky Lecture is sponsored annually by the Association for Women in Mathematics (AWM) and intended to highlight contributions of women in the fields of applied or computational mathematics.
MARIA GAETANA AGNESI. 1718-1799.
“The first important woman mathematician since Hypatia (fifth century A.D.)”, according to Dutch mathematician Dirk Jan Struik.
Among her greatest contributions to mathematics was writing the first book that discussed differential and integral calculus.
In 1750, she was appointed as chair of mathematics and natural philosophy at the Bologna Academy of Sciences, an incredible accomplishment for any woman in the mid eighteenth century, when exceptionally few universities in Europe allowed women to study, let alone hold teaching positions. (Source: Wikipedia)
SHE-LOGY is a blog project open to everyone who is interested to celebrate women this whole month of March. If you’re reading this, I extend that invitation to you to contribute post/s about the women you’d like to honor. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading this.