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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Throwback Fact: Emmy Noether's Math Journey

Emmy Noether
The way we name proofs in mathematics, most often after their founder, immortalizes mathematicians who could otherwise slip into history unnoticed. But 96 years ago today, an event occured that helped to keep one particular female mathematician from obscurity.

Emmy Noether (1882 - 1935) almost missed her chance at mathematical fame. Born to a Jewish family in the German town of Erlangen, Noether showed few signs of her mathematical talent until she reached a college age. Noether originally planned to learn to teach English and French, but she attended math courses at the University of Erlangen where her father lectured. There, she earned her doctorate in mathematics in 1907, and worked at the same university for 7 years, but didn't earn a single payment for her research. 
David Hilbert
Noether developed a professional relationship with Austrian-born mathematician David Hilbert (who we featured in our Math Madness bracket!). Hilbert invited Noether to the University of Göttingen, but the university would not grant a professorship to a woman. Hilbert and fellow mathematician Felix Klein convinced Noether to stay at the university, unpaid, while they fought a political battle for her professorship. During this period, Noether gave lectures unofficially. To get around the university, Hilbert would advertise a lecture as his own "with the assistance of Dr. E. Noether," and she would then give the lecture.

But on this day in 1919, Noether was finally granted official permission to teach at the University of Göttingen in a Privatdozent position. She began to gain recognition for her work under her own name and flourished. See this more complete biography for a discussion on what mathematics she worked on.

One of the halls of Bryn Mawn college
Noether moved to the United States in 1933 after accepting a position at Bryn Mawr college. She worked there until her sudden death in 1935. Today, Emmy Noether is recognized worldwide for her contributions to mathematics. She was even made into a recent Google Doodle on the anniversary of her birth! Without the hard work of Hilbert and Klein, we may not have remembered Noether like we do today.

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