Emmy Noether and the Love for Mathematics

Emmy Noether
(1882 – 1935)

On April 23, 1882, German mathematician and physicist Emmy Noether was born, who is best known for her groundbreaking contributions to abstract algebra and theoretical physics. Albert Einstein called her the most important woman in the history of mathematics, as she revolutionized the theories of rings, fields, and algebras.

In 1900, Emmy Noether decided to enroll at the University of Erlangen, but as one of two women at the institution, she was only allowed to audit her classes instead of really participating in them. Noether also finished her graduation at a grammar school in Nuremberg three years later. While restrictions were hard on studying women in Erlangen, Noether attended lectures of famous scientists like Karl Schwarzschild or David Hilbert in Göttingen. After returning to Erlangen, she was allowed to finally study mathematics and taught at the universities’ mathematical institute without payment after her graduation.

David Hilbert had to put great effort into getting Emmy Noether into Göttingen University as privatdozent. Eventually she was allowed to teach at the university despite her sex, but still without any payment. In these years, she proved the Noether theorem one of the most important contributions to the field of mathematics since the Pythagorean theorem, as many of her male colleagues noted. Noether enjoyed a great reputation and delivered her habilitation lecture in 1919 but was not given any salary for her work until 1924 when Noether was appointed a special teaching position in algebra.

A great part in the development of abstract algebra was achieved in the 20th century and Emmy Noether depicted a major influence on the topic with several papers and lectures. Beginning with the year 1920, Noether began publishing works on the ideal theory, defining left and right ideals as a ring followed by another publication, analyzing ascending chain conditions. After these works, Noether had many supporters in the scientific community and several mathematical terms were named after her. During the lectures she gave at university, Noether gave up regular lesson plans and rather used the time for intense discussions, bringing her research forward. Some students paid lots of respects to her methods, others were rather frustrated.

After a long friendship with the mathematician Pavel Alexandrov, Noether decided to continue her work at the Moscow State University in 1928 for some time. There she critically contributed to the development of Galois theory. Emmy Noether’s achievements are numerous. And even though she received several awards for her works she was still not promoted to being a full professor at the university, which caused much frustration along her colleagues who dearly respected her achievements and her personality.

In 1933, Emmy Noether received the same letter as many of her Jewish colleagues. She was expelled from her position at the University of Göttingen due to the new Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service. However, she continued her lectures on class field theory secretly in her apartment until starting her job at the University of Oxford and later the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Emmy Noether passed away on April 14, 1935. At her memorial, many notable mathematicians and friend’s of Noether like Pavel Alexandrov, Bryn Mawr or Hermann Weyl paid their respects.

At yovisto you may enjoy a Google Tech Talk by Dr. Ransom Stephens on ‘Emmy Noether and The Fabric of Reality‘.

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