Thursday, September 23, 2021
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Celebrating Women in STEM: Dr. Emmy Noether

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to hang out with Albert Einstein? Dr. Emmy Noether was a German-born, Jewish mathematician who worked and was friends with Einstein. Einstein considered her “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

Amalie (Emmy) Noether was born in Erlangen, Germany on March 23, 1882. Her father, Max Noether, was a professor of mathematics at the University of Erlangen, but due to her gender, Noether was not permitted to pursue an education in mathematics.

Instead, Noether went to finishing school and became certified to teach French and English in 1900.

Mathematics, however, was her true passion, and although her gender kept her from being a student, Noether got permission to audit classes at the University of Göttingen.

When the University of Erlangen (now Erlangen-Nürnberg) began accepting women in 1904, Noether applied to be a bona-fide doctoral student in mathematics. In 1907, she finished her Ph.D. in mathematics with a focus in algebraic invariants.

After graduation, Noether remained at the University of Erlangen, working as an unpaid researcher and helping her father.

In 1915, Hilbert and Felix Klein (a mathematician working on Einstein’s theories) persuaded Noether to return to the University of Göttingen, despite the protests of some sexist faculty members.

Noether was prohibited from being listed as the professor for any classes, but lectured without pay under Dr. Hilbert’s name. Nonetheless, she had great success at the university.

In 1918, Noether proved two mathematical theorems for general relativity and elementary particle physics—one of which became known as “Noether’s Theorem.”

The following year, at the insistence of Hilbert and Einstein, the university finally gave Noether permission to lecture under her own name (though she was still unpaid).

Noether’s lectures were discussion-based and often covered ground-breaking material; some of the class notes from her students ended up in textbooks.

Noether was made an associate professor by 19922, and finally received a small salary for her work.

She was a visiting professor at the University of Moscow and the University of Frankfurt, and gave talks at the International Mathematical Congress in Bologna (1928) and Zurich (1932).

Noether also won the 1932 Alfred Ackermann-Teubner Memorial Prize for the Advancement of Mathematical Knowledge.

Sadly, in 1933 when Nazi occupation of Germany began, Noether was forced to give up her position at Göttingen because of her religion.

After leaving Göttingen, Noether moved to America to work as a visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College, and a lecturer and researcher at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Noether continued to teach until her death in 1935, at the age of 53.

Today, very few know Emmy Noether’s name. Even physicists, who regularly use her work on algebraic invariance and conservation of physical properties, are unlikely to know who she was or what she was famous for.

However, a recent push to acknowledge the contributions of women in STEM has brought her to the forefront. Noether was honored for Women’s History Month with a New York Times article in March 2012 and by the U.S. Department of Energy in March 2015.

Last year, the Emmy Noether Award was created to fund young women in science programs in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Noether’s perseverance and genius make her one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, and certainly worthy of recognition.

Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Meetings every Monday in the Women’s Center, 2 – 3 pm.

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  1. Hmm. I wasn’t aware that she was relatively unknown. I studied mathematics at Goettingen in the ’80s, and everyone knew about her . . . and we saw her portrait daily on the way to classes.

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