Whilst reading ‘Nobel Prize Women in Science’ by Sharon McGrayne, I was drawn in by Emmy Noether’s incredible story on rising above the challenges faced by women to become one of the leading founders of abstract algebra and creator of Noether’s Theorem.
Noether was born in 1882 in a small Bavarian university town called Erlangen, where her father was a mathematician and professor at the University of Erlangen. Noether originally planned to teach French and English but instead decided to study mathematics, attending university before it even was legal for women to get degrees. After completing her dissertation in 1907, she worked at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen without pay for seven years. In 1915, she was invited my David Hilbert to join the mathematics department at the University of Göttingen, where she lectured free of charge under Hilbert’s name (after the Prussian government refused her permission to teach). In 1922, the title of “unofficial extraordinary professor” was bestowed on Noether, however she continued to be given no pay, pension or privilege. In fact, she was never made a regular professor at Gottingen.
She stayed at Göttingen until 1933, as Germany’s Nazi government dismissed Jews from university positions, and she moved to the United States to teach at the Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. In 1935, she underwent surgery for an ovarian cyst and died four days later.
During Noether’s second Habilitation lecture, she introduced Noether’s Theorem, which, to physicists, is her most important contribution. Noether’s Theorem proves that fundamental laws about the conservation of energy, momentum, angular momentum, and so on, are identical to the laws of symmetries. As a result, the laws of physics are independent of time and place.
Abstract algebra is the study of algebraic structures, such as groups, rings, fields, modules, vector spaces, lattices and algebra over a field. By abstracting away various amounts of detail, mathematicians have been able to create theories of various algebraic structures that apply to many objects. In founding abstract algebra, Noether helped turn algebra in a completely different direction and formed a radically different conceptual approach to mathematics.
‘Theory of Ideal in Rings’ is arguably Noether’s most important paper. In this paper she though only in concepts, comparing and contrasting them in an abstract way. Martha K. Smith from the University of Texas explains how “she saw connections between things that people hadn’t really realised were connected before”.
George Birkhoff and Saunders Mac Lane popularized Van der Waerden’s book on Noether’s ideas on abstract algebra and, as a result, Noether’s approach that had been greatly ‘watered down’ had a massive effect on almost every school child in the United States.
It’s safe to say that Noether has truly inspired to continue pursuing my ambitions in mathematics through hard work and commitment.
Which scientists have inspired you? x