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Thursday, December 10, 2015

Famous Women of Science and Mathematics

Today, the Worldwide Center of Mathematics is going to talk about some of the most famous and accomplished women in science and mathematics. While the number of women in math and other STEM disciplines today is still small compared to the amount of men, it is important to realize that women can achieve just as much as men can, because gender does not determine intelligence, skill, or aptitude. Keep reading to learn about some inspiring ladies!

Hypatia of Alexandria
Source: Wiki Commons
Hypatia of Alexandria: (B: Alexandria, Egypt, c.370 AD - D: Alexandria, Egypt, March, 415 AD):
     As previously mentioned on our blog, Hypatia was a Greek mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher, often considered to be the first female mathematician. Her father, Theon of Alexandria, was a professor of mathematics and raised Hypatia with excellent education. Around 400 AD, Hypatia became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria, where she taught mathematics, science, and the philosophy of Neoplatonism. Sadly, most her works were lost so there is no way to truly know what her exact contributions were to mathematics, but a few of her commentaries survive, including one on Diophantus's Arithmetica. What Hypatia is remembered for (or should be) is how she was an extremely educated woman with a lot of knowledge who wasn't afraid to speak her mind. Today, the 2009 feature film Agora, tells the story of Hypatia's life and death and does a great job of depicting the turmoil of her life.

Émilie du Châtelet
Source: Wiki Commons
Émilie du Châtelet: (B: Paris, France, December 17, 1706 - D: Lunéville, France, September 10, 1749):
     Émilie du Châtelet is probably most famous for her affair with Voltaire, but what many people don't know (and should) is how gifted she was in academics. Du Châtelet grew up during the French Enlightenment Era in an aristocratic family. Many women in her position were not encouraged to study and were expected to marry at a young age, but du Châtelet convinced her father that she needed special attention for her academics, and was able to receive relatively good education for the time. From this, along with her passion for learning, du Châtelet became skilled in science and mathematics which she practiced through out her life.
    Her most well known works are her translation of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica and her own work on kinetic energy. She is also known for her book Institutions de physique ("Lessons in Physics") which was a new view of science and philosophy that was intended to be studied by her son. She also explored other topics such as philosophy, theology, and ethics, which some of her works included an analysis of The Bible, her discourse on human happiness, and her independent works where she argued for women's education. Overall, Châtelet was a woman who was able to balance a social and family life while working hard to keep up with her research and works.

Maria Gaetana Agnesi
Source: Wiki Commons
Maria Gaetana Agnesi: (B: Milan, Italy, May 16, 1718 - D: Milan, Italy, January 9, 1799):
    Agnesi came from a wealthy and literate family and grew up in Italy, where at the time intellectual women were admired by men, and were allowed to participate in the arts and sciences. Agnesi was considered a child prodigy who mastered several languages at a young age, and it is believed that she mastered mathematics by her teens; Agnesi would also become involved in discussions with the various distinguished intellects her family often hosted.
    While Agnesi made a lot of contributions to mathematics and showed tremendous promise, she decided to devote her life to charity following her father's death. Agnesi wrote the "Analytical Institutions for the Use of Italian Youth" which contained remarkable treatment of algebra and analysis. This was written for her brothers and is considered to be the first mathematics textbook written by a female. The "Witch of Agnesi", an analytic curve which she is often known for, whose name is a mistranslation of a particular kind of nautical rope, is referenced in this text. Due to her impressive works, Agnesi was appointed to the Bologna Academy of Sciences, but never served as she had already devoted her life to charity.      

Marie-Sophie Germain
Source: Wiki Commons
Marie-Sophie Germain: (B: Rue Saint-Denis, Paris, France, April 1, 1776 - D: Paris, France, June 27, 1831):
     Germain was born during the American Revolution and grew up during a violent time: often confined to her home, she spent a lot of time in her father's library. It was here that she read about Archimedes, slain by a Roman soldier after the soldier had trod on his geometric drawings in the dust. Germain decided that geometry must clearly have been something worth studying, and resolved to learn mathematics, which she did by reading the books in her father's library. Her parents found her interests in mathematics inappropriate and did everything they could to discourage her, such as taking away her heat and light, but Germain rebelled and did anything she could to keep studying. She kept this rebellious spirit with her when she was 18, at the time of the founding of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris. Women were not allowed to enroll in the academy, but Germain was able to obtain lecture notes which she used to study. Eventually, Germain submitted a paper to J. L. Lagrange under a false name to protect her gender. Lagrange was impressed with work and wanted to meet the student who submitted it. He was surprised to find out that the author was a female, but recognized her abilities and became her mentor. With a male mentor, this opened the door for Germain to study and work on mathematics.
     Germain won a prize from the French Academy of Sciences for her work on the law of vibrating elastic surfaces, which allowed her to join the ranks of other prominent mathematicians at the time. Germain also made advancements in number theory, where her work on Fermat's Last Theorem broke the theorem into two cases and is known as the Sophie's Germain theorem. She also holds other namesakes in number theory, including Sophie Germain primes and Sophie Germain's Identity. 

Ada Lovelace
Source: Wiki Commons
Ada Lovelace: (B: London, United Kingdom, December 10, 1815 - D: Marylebone, United Kingdom, November 27, 1852):
     Lovelace's father was a poet who left her mother when she was a child. Due to this, Lovelace's mother raised her on a strict regiment of science, mathematics, and logic, so that she would not be like her father. Lovelace excelled in these subjects and showed a talent for numbers and languages: when she was only 13, she produced a design for a flying machine. When she was 17, she met Charles Babbage, a inventor and mathematician, who mentored her and became a life long friend. This relationship is where Lovelace made her most recognized contributions to science and mathematics.
     Lovelace is known as the first female computer programmer, whose major contributions were made in computer science as well as math. Her most famous work came from her translations of the Analytical Engine, a machine invented by Charles Babbage to make mathematical calculations, where she made innovative theories and performed complex analysis. Today, Lovelace has a day dedicated to her to celebrate her contributions to STEM and how she helped pave the way for women in tech today. You can learn more about her life, work, and legacy in our previous blog post here.

Florence Nightingale
Source: Wiki Commons
Florence Nightingale: (B: Florence, Tuscany, May 12, 1820 - D: London, United Kingdom, August 13, 1910):
     Named after the city she was born in, Nightingale came from an affluent family who belonged to elite social circles. While she could have married young and lived a plush life, Nightingale was passionate about philanthropy, and decided she wanted to be a nurse which was against her family's wishes. Nightingale worked as a nurse during the Crimean War in London, where she pushed for sanitation reform and was dubbed "The Lady with a Lamp." Sadly, Nightingale contracted Crimean fever, and by the time she was 38 she was left her bedridden. But even from her bed, Nightingale still worked hard to advocate for health care and was a authority on public health issues until her death.
    While she is most remembered for her nursing abilities, most people don't know is that Nightingale was also a pioneer in her use of statistical analysis. During her time in the hospitals, Nightingale collected data and created a record keeping system. This data was then analyzed and used as a tool to improve hospitals and to push for sanitation reform. Nightingale used a lot of visual methods for showing data, such as the pie chart, which was a relatively new way of presenting data at this time. Nightingale is credited with developing the polar area diagram, a form of a pie chart, which she used to illustrate seasonal sources of patient mortality. Due to her work in Statistics, Nightingale was the first women to become a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and also became a honorary member of the American Statistical Association.

Sofia Kovalevskaya
Source: Wiki Commons
Sofia Kovalevskaya: (B: Moscow, Russia, January 15, 1850 - D: Stockholm, Sweden, February 10, 1891):
     Kovalevskaya first became interested in mathematics after her uncle started to talk to her about the subject when she was a child. By the time Kovalevskaya was fourteen she had taught herself trigonometry and was starting to study more complicated mathematical concepts. When Kovalevskaya finished secondary schooling she wanted to continue her education at a university level, but was unable because most universities near Moscow were not open to women. To overcome this, Kovalevskaya entered a marriage of connivence that allowed her to leave Russia and pursue her education. Kovalevskaya eventually ended up in Berlin where she worked towards a degree in mathematics from the University of Göttingen. At the time, women were not allowed to attend classes, so she had to have private study sessions with Karl Weierstrass. Eventually Kovalevskaya presented three papers to the university, one on partial differential equations, another on Saturn's rings, and finally one on elliptic integrals. Her dissertations earned her a doctorate with out her having attended any classes at the university. She went on to work as a mathematics lecturer at the University of Stockholm where she continued to produce mathematical works and win awards. She passed away at only 41 from pneumonia but made significant contributions to mathematics before her early death.
     From her paper on partial differential equations came the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem, which gives conditions for the existence of solutions to a certain class of partial differential equations. Kovalevskaya is also known for winning the Prix Bordin from the French Academy of Sciences for her paper on the rotation of a solid body around a fixed point. Kovalevskaya also gained a reputation as an advocate of women rights and for other political causes, while she also spent time writing novels, plays, and essays.

Emmy Noether
Source: Wiki Commons
Emmy Noether: (B: Erlangen, Bavaria, Germany, March 23, 1882 - D: Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, April 14, 1935):
    Growing up, Noether studied the arts, particularly languages, which was expected of middle class girls at the time. She originally wanted to become a language teacher and after completing school, she earned her teaching certification. However, Noether decided to not teach, instead seeking to pursue a degree and career in mathematics. Noether eventually received her doctorate in mathematics from the University of Erlangen, where her father was a mathematics professor. After this, Noether worked at the Mathematical Institute of Erlang without a title or pay from 1908 to 1915. This was a common theme in her life where Noether was often times working with no pay or recognition due to her gender, political views, or religion. Noether would eventually overcome this with the help of David Hilbert and Felix Klein, who insisted she be able to teach at the University of Göttingen, which many there did not want. Nevertheless Noether became a lecturer at the university which would eventually lead to her first paying teaching position. This would sadly be taken away when Hitler and the Nazis rose to power and demanded that all Jews be thrown out of universities. Because of this Noether moved to the United States to work at Bryn Mawr College where she taught until her death.
     In her life Noether made severally contributions to mathematics and science. Noether's most well known contribution was her nearly single-handed development of commutative algebra, having coined the term "ideal," as well as being the first to prove the three commonly known isomorphism theorems for rings. Rings whose ascending chains of ideals terminate after finitely many steps are given the name Noetherian rings in her honor, and due to a number of theorems she proved regarding them. In her life she published over 40 papers while working as a mathematics professor and inspiring her students. For someone who had so many odds against her, she was able to overcome them with her passion and drive. You can learn more about her journey in our previous blog post, here.

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright: (B: Aynho, Northamptonshire, England, December 17, 1900 - D: Cambridge, England, April 3, 1998):
     Cartwright was originally interested in studying history but decided to pursue mathematics because she thought it was easier, since it didn't involve a lot of memorization of facts. In 1919, Cartwright entered the St Hugh's College in Oxford to study math, one of five such women there studying the subject. After two years there, Cartwright took her Mathematical Moderations exams and was awarded second class. This discouraged Cartwright from studying mathematics and she considered going back to history but decided to stick with mathematics and eventually graduated with first degree honors in 1923 from Oxford. then taught mathematics for four years before returning to Oxford in 1928 where she was awarded the Yarrow Research Fellowship at Girton College where she published several works. Cartwright spent her life conducting mathematical research, holding administrative roles, and teaching mathematics. She was even honored by the Queen of England with a damehood in 1969.
     Cartwright published over 100 papers in her life-time on topics such as classical analysis, differential equations, topology, and much more. She was also the first female mathematician to be elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, the first female to be President of the London Mathematical Society, and the first female to receive both the Royal Society's Sylvester Medal and the London Mathematical Society's De Morgan Medal, which helped open the doors for women to come.

Julia Hall Bowman Robinson
Source: Wiki Commons
Julia Hall Bowman Robinson: (B: St. Louis, Missouri, December 8, 1919 - D: Oakland, California, July 30, 1985):
     The only American-born mathematician on our list, Robinson grew up in San Diego and attended San Diego State University. Her sister, Constance Reid, was also famous for writing several books on mathematics and mathematicians.  Robinson eventually transferred to University of California Berkeley where she would earn her Ph.D. in 1948. After earning her Ph.D., Robinson began to work on her research, including many famous results like her work on Hilbert's tenth problem, and her work on game theory. Robinson eventually became a professor at Berkeley in 1975 but only held this position part-time. In 1975, Robinson became the first female mathematician in the National Academy of Sciences, one of many honors bestowed on her. She was elected as the first female President of the American Mathematical Society in 1982, and was awarded the MacArthur Foundation Prize for her contributions to mathematics around this time as well.
     Sadly, Robinson always faced health problems in her life, which started when she was only a child and developed life-long chronic rheumatic fever. Eventually her health problems would lead to leukemia which killed Robinson at 65. Still, Robinson over came these issue and was still able to pursue her love for mathematics.

Cathleen Synge Morawetz: (B: Toronto, Canada, May 5, 1923):
     Morawetz' father was a mathematician, and encouraged her interest in mathematics and science. Cecilia Krieger, a close family friend, encouraged Morawetz to study mathematics during her education. In 1945 Morawetz received her B.A. degree in mathematics from University of Toronto and then her Master's degree from MIT in 1946. She then got a job at New York University where she also earned her Ph.D. in 1951, later on becoming a full time professor at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences in that same university. Morawetz later became the director of the Courant Institute, becoming the first woman to be a director of a mathematics institute in America.
     Morawetz started her work with the mathematics of transonic flow and shock waves. From this she moved on to working on the scattering of sound waves and electronic waves striking objects. Eventually this led her to work on solutions to the wave equation, which Morawetz proved important results relating to the non-linear equations. Due to her countless contributions to mathematics, Morawetz became the first woman to win the National Medal of Science for mathematics in 1998, the highest scientific honor the United States can give. She has also won awards like the Jefferey-Williams Prize, the Birkhoff Prize, and the Leroy P. Steele Prize for Lifetime Achievement in mathematics. 

Maryam Mirzakhani
Source: IMU 
Maryam Mirzakhani: (B: Tehran, Iran, May, 1977):
     Mirzakhani showed tremendous promise even at a young age, attending the prestigious National Organization for Development of Exceptional Talents, a highly selective middle and high school in Iran. During middle school Mirzakhani dreamed of becoming a writer but by high school decided to pursue a path in mathematics. Mirzakhani excelled in mathematics and won gold medals at the 1994 and 1995 International Math Olympiads, in which she received a perfect score in the later. She then graduated with a B.S. in mathematics from Sharif University of Technology and then decided to make her way to America. Mirzakhani earned her Ph.D. from Harvard University and also served as a research fellow at the Clay Mathematics Institute. Today, she is a professor of mathematics at Stanford University where she has held the position since 2008.
     Mirzakhani is best known for being the first female ever to win the Fields Medal in 2014, which is often thought of as the Nobel Prize of mathematics. She earned this prestigious award for her "contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces" (International Mathematical Union)Mirzakhani has also won several other awards like the Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics, the Blumenthal Award, and much more. Lastly, her work in mathematics, and recognitions, represent how far women have come in the field and how the world is coming to accept them.

     Each of these ladies has made significant contributions to science and mathematics. Not only this, they also inspire other women to work towards their dreams and overcome any obstacles they may face. We salute each of you ladies for making history and for opening the doors for the future generations of women. 

     Special thanks to Agnes Scott College who inspired us to create this article/infographic due to their extensive biographies about women in science and mathematics, which we also used for a majority of our sources. You can visit their biographies about women in mathematics here to read more in-depth biographies about the ladies on this list. We also want to say thank you to our other sources which can be found under each bio by clicking on the hyper-link to the specific page. 

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