Scientist Spotlight: Emmy Noether

German-born Emmy Noether faced many obstacles in her perusal of mathematics, but she did not let anything stop her. Emmy became one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century and made great contributions to her field.

Growing up, Emmy, like other upper middle class girls of the time, learned the arts and attended “finishing school.” She earned a certification to teach English and French but instead decided to attend a university to earn a degree in mathematics.

Emmy decided to try to take classes at the University of Erlangen where her father was a professor and her brother was a student. Because Emmy was a woman, she was denied the ability to take classes but was allowed to audit them, meaning she s could sit in on the class but could not receive a grade or credit. Emmy eventually took the exam which allowed her to be a doctoral student in mathematics and became a student at the University. Five years of studying later, and she was given the second degree to a woman in mathematics.

Because the University would not allow women professors, Emmy worked with her father at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen but she did not receive pay. There she worked with Ernst Otto Fischer on theoretical algebra and later worked with other prominent mathematicians. At the University of Gottingen, David Hilbert and Felix Klein asked for her assistance with Einstein’s theories. With them, she proved two theorems that were fundamental parts for general relativity and elementary particle physics.

Emmy could not obtain a job at Gottingen because of her gender and could only lecture under Hiblert’s name, as his assistant. After Hilbert and Albert Einstein defended her, Emmy gained permission to lecture, but without pay. Eventually she earned a small salary.

Emmy gained a following and boys travelled from around Europe to study with her. Emmy also travelled around Europe giving lectures and eventually moved to the United States when the Nazis took over Germany. As a Jew, she was not allowed to teach in her home country. She became a guest professor at Bryn Mawr College and have lectures at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Emmy made great impact in her field because she not only changed the way mathematicians viewed the subject, but she also did a lot of work on abstract algebra, ring theory, group representations, and number theory. Emmy had a unique perspective that brought a lot of new and different insight to the field. She is considered one of the greatest mathematicians of her time and Einstein even wrote a letter about her to the Times after her death. Emmy also won the Ackermann-Teubner Memorial Prize in mathematics.

After her death, Einstein referred about her saying, “In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

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