Scientist Spotlight: Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

One woman actually changed the universe, or at least how we see it. Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin, born in England in 1900, was an astronomer and astrophysicist.

She began at the University of Cambridge in 1919 and a lecture about Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity inspired her to study astronomy.  Believing that the United States offered more opportunities to women, in 1923 Cecilia moved from Cambridge, England, to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to study at the Harvard College Observatory.

When Cecilia began at Harvard, many scientists believed the composition of stars was similar to that of the Earth. The scientists saw seven different absorption patterns, which led them to believe there were seven different stars, with varying combinations of the same elements found in Earth’s crust.


Photo courtesy of Harvard Square Library

Cecilia was not so quick as to agree with these conclusions. She proposed the seven patterns corresponded to different temperatures. With her background in quantum physics, Cecilia was able to apply her knowledge about ionization. Higher temperatures caused ionization, which meant ions of the same atoms with different absorption patterns. She knew the extremely hot temperature of the Sun would cause the atoms to ionize, and that these excited states would show up as different absorption lines on the spectra. Using the equations created by Indian astrophysicist Meghnad Saha, Cecilia discovered the sun was made of mostly hydrogen and helium.

Astronomer Henry Norris Russell was wary of this conclusion and persuaded Cecilia to not include it in her thesis. In her 1925 Ph.D. thesis, “Stellar Atmospheres”, Cecilia determined stars are mostly composed of hydrogen and helium but added a note that she was probably wrong.


Photo courtesy of FeedBox

Despite the controversy, Russian astronomer Otto Struve called her thesis “undoubtedly the most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy.” Cecilia received her Ph.D. in astronomy from Radcliff College (now Harvard College Observatory) because Harvard University did not grant doctoral degrees to women at the time. Harvard also did not recognize female professors, so for many years, Cecilia settled with being a technical assistant. In 1956, Cecelia finally became the first female professor and the first female department chair at Harvard.

Four years after Cecilia’s thesis was published, the dissenter Russell admitted Cecilia was correct in her theory, and even published how own paper on it. However, this recognition was too late.

Cecilia never received enough credit for her ground-breaking work in astronomy, but her feats did not go completely unnoticed. Ironically enough, Cecilia was awarded the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship of the American Astronomical Society in 1976, 20 years after Russell’s death. Cecilia also has an asteroid and telescope named after her.

Cecilia’s work ushered in a new era in astrophysics, and we have her to thank for much of what we currently know about stars. Being a young woman, many older scientists were threatened by Cecilia, but she did not let that stop her. In her speech accepting the Henry Norris Russel Prize, Cecilia explains, “The reward of the young scientist is the emotional thrill of being the first person in the history of the world to see something or to understand something. Nothing can compare with that experience… The reward of the old scientist is the sense of having seen a vague sketch grow into a masterly landscape.”

More about Cecilia:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky



Scientist Spotlight: Mary Agnes Chases

Many people enjoy USDA approved meats, but few think about where the meats come from, or how the animals are fed. Botanist, suffragist, and illustrator Mary Agnes Chase determined the best grass to feed livestock, in addition to authoring many books on plants and studying commercially developed grass strands.

Despite not having an extensive formal education background, Mary became one of the world’s greatest agrostologist or grass expert for those of us who didn’t know there was such a thing. Mary was born in 1869 in Chicago, and began working odd jobs in stockyards, grocery stores, and a newspaper right after grammar school to help support her family. She did not let her responsibility hinder her passion, however, and she took trips to sketch plants and spent her spare change to take botany classes at the University of Chicago and Lewis Institute.

Botanist Reverend Ellsworth Jerome Hill mentored Mary, and in exchange, she illustrated his papers. Mary submitted two Chicago Field Museum of Natural History publications and landed a part-time job at the museum. There, she learned how to use a microscope and do technical drawings, and soon became a full-time illustrator for the United States Department of Agriculture for a salary of $720 per year.

For over thirty years at the USDA, Mary worked with Albert Hitchcock. The pair collected and classified plants in North and South America. They also researched commercially developed grass strains and assured they were properly advertised. Thanks to their work, we know more about our food and its production.

Hitchcock died in 1935, but Mary continued her studies in


Photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institute

agrostology. She was promoted to Senior Botanist in Charge of Systematic Agrostology. As a female, Mary was denied funding to travel but that did not stop her from traveling around the United States and South America to collect species from over 12,200 plants. She paid her own fare for many of the trips and donated her collections to the Smithsonian and National Herbarium. Mary independently wrote and illustrated the first book of grasses called The Structure of Grasses Explained for Beginners. Mary also coauthored many other books, even when she was over ninety years old.

Mary’s career did not stop at grass – she was extremely active politically. She was involved in the NAACP, National Women’s Party, and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1918, she was jailed for participating in the hunger strike and was almost fired from the USDA. Even after woman gained the right to vote, Mary opened her Washington D.C. residence to Latin American botanists to stay while they learned in the United States. Her house became known as “Casa Contenta.”

Mary left a legacy, both in agrostology and politics. She was given an honorary degree from the University of Illinois and was an honorary fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, and a fellow at the Linnean Society of London.  Mary’s passion for grass may be unique, but without her curiosity, our food industry, and knowledge of grass, in general, would be deficient.

For more on Mary:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

Reflections on Becoming a Human Tree

I found the sixth sense, and no, it is not seeing dead people.

It’s a machine that correctly predicts the sum of six numbers –– before the first number is even chosen. Mind blown yet?

If you don’t believe me, visit the National Museum of Mathematics and see for yourself. Normally, when I mention MoMath, I get bewildered stares and comments like: “A Museum of Math? In New York City? I’ve never even heard of it!” Oh, it exists, and it is well worth the bus ride and walk in subfreezing temperatures I took to get there.

The museum has two floors: floor 0 and floor -1. When one curator informed me it would take hours to go through the whole exam, he wasn’t kidding. I was there for probably three hours and barely saw ¾ of the exhibits.

When you first pull the pi door handles and walk into the building, yo



Photo courtesy of Science News.


u are greeted by a tricycle course. However, this isn’t just any tricycle – it has square wheels. You’re able to have a smooth ride because the course is repeated inverted arcs of catenaries. The museum offers a DIY guide to use a square-wheeled trike at home.

Shortly after this exhibit is the “Twisted Thruway”, a Mobius strip you’re able to drive a remote-control car around. Each exhibit has a set of conceptual, history, and real-world application slides on a nearby tablet so you can learn about the mathematical ideas. It was at the Twisted Thruway that my cousin and I read 15 jam-packed slides about Mobius strips and can now tell you not only about Mobius strips but also about knots and unknots.


Kids discover how the “Math Square” responds to their movements. Photo courtesy of LinkedIn

Along with the motion concepts, there are the “Tracks of Galileo”, and you can learn about how to make the fastest path to the bottom of a track.

Down the staircase to floor -1, there is the “String Product.” On a parabola, the lines connecting two numbers light up and these cross the center pole at the product of the two numbers. The exhibit was busy each time I passed, but I was able to read about it and the concept is fascinating! The idea comes from one of the original calculators, and the practice is still used today for things like determining BMI.

On this floor, there is also the “Monkeying Around” exhibit, a type of optical illusion in which shift one part changes the amounts of objects in the image. As it turns out, this was one method criminals once used to make counterfeit money.

After being schooled on counterfeiting, I moved on to “Finding Fifteen” and not only discovered a mathematical strategy for winning that game, but also learned about a way to win Tic-Tac-Toe.

There was also the “Robot Swarm” where glowing robots react to your movement and the position of neighboring robots. It was entertaining to watch little kids marvel at the robots’ behavior.

Another one of my favorite exhibits on this floor was “Edge FX”, basically a real-life Plinko that changed as you varied the probability of the chip falling to each side. Not only did this bring back nostalgia from watching “The Price is Right”, but it also reinforced the probability topics I’m currently learning in AP Statistics.

For those more musically-inclined, there is the “Harmony of Spheres” which is an


Harmonic spheres culture. Photo courtesy of Live Science.

interactive musical sculpture. The shape comes from the 12-tone musical scale. I tried my best to understand how it works, but I’ve never been able to grasp musical notes.

I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the many exhibits on fractals and tessellations. Just like MoMath satisfies its musicians, it also pleases its artists. You can make some patterns at the “Tile Factory” or change shape to become a “Human Tree.” If you’re feeling bold, you may even walk through the “Wall of Fire.”


Open the doors with Pi door handles! Photo courtesy of

Fire? Is it dangerous? You’ll have to discover that yourself over on 26th street. There were so many exhibits that I, unfortunately, could not write about (or see) them all. So, take my advice and schedule a whole day to revel in the mathematical glory. You’ll need it.

Scientist Spotlight: Alice Ball

I am going to ask you right now to take out your Bible (if you have one) and to open to Number 5:2, now go to Deuteronomy 24:8-9, next 2 Kings 7:3, then Leviticus 24:4. Let’s move on to the New Testament. Try Matthew 8:1-8, followed by Luke 17:12-19. At this point, you may be asking yourself why is she having us look up Bible verses, on a science blog no less?!? Well, if you looked at the Bible verses (which I don’t think the majority of you did) did you notice what they all mentioned? Leprosy. Yep, the disease that mentioned in the Bible more than 20 times, the disease that forced people to live in leprosy colonies, the disease that made people look like they were straight out of a horror film.

I have to say, that was a much larger introduction than I normally do and I commend you if you stuck through it with me. As you may have told from the title, this post is about Alice Ball, and you will see what that Bible-leprosy search was about in a minute.

Alice Ball was born in Seattle on July 24, 1892. While spending time with her grandfather is his photography studio, she was awed by chemistry.

Alice graduated from the University of Washington in 1912 with a degree in pharmaceutical chemistry and in 1914 with a degree in pharmacy. At this time, she published a 10-page article in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. An impressive accomplishment given her age and gender. Also in 1914, Alice began studying at the College of Hawaii (later University of Hawaii) as a graduate student in chemistry. In June of 1915, she became the first African American AND the first woman to graduate with a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii.

Here’s where this lies into leprosy (Hansen’s disease). During the early 1900s, the disease was spreading its horrible skin lesions and numbness. Though we are still not sure how exactly it spreads, we now know it’s not contagious. However, 100 years ago, the police isolated the sick on the Kaluaupapa leper colony on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. There were also colonies in other parts of the world like Europe, the Caribbean, and India. The last colony that still exists is in Romania and had 19 lepers in 2011.

While Alice was in school, the only way to treat leprosy was the thick and sticky chaulmooga oil that couldn’t mix with water. The oil was difficult and ultimately ineffective if injected. Rubbing or swallowing it was equally unsuccessful. Alice was assigned on a project to research the effects of the oil. She figured out a way that the oil could be combined with water for a successful injection. The way of treatment she discovered has become the “Ball Method.” The Ball Method was widely used until the 1940s and even some remote areas used it as recent as 15 years ago.

Alice’s work treated many people who were burdened with leprosy and allowed them to rejoin their family and friends. Unfortunately, Alice died in 1916, at the age of 24. She was thought to have inhaled chlorine gas.

Although Alice was never able to really see the fruits of her labor, she accomplished something that was taking others hundreds of years out figure out. Her short life provided a long and lasting impact for the future of leprosy. The University of Hawaii honored her with a plaque on a chaulmoogra tree and in 2007 awarded her the Regents Medal of Distinction. In 2000, he Governor of Hawaii declared February 29 “Alice Ball Day.”

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

Scientist Spotlight: Rosalyn Yallow

Anyone will tell you hard work and persistence pays off. Nothing was more true for Rosalyn Yalow. Born in 1921, Rosalyn began reading in preschool. Her parents knew she’d go far, but thought it’d be best for her to be a schoolmistress. Rosalyn, however, had bigger dreams. She persisted in her plan to become a physicist and eventually won the Nobel Prize in 1977.

Rosalyn’s love of chemistry began in high school but at Hunter College her interests shifted to physics. In her junior year, she hung from the rafters so she could hear physicist Enrico Fermi speak in a packed lecture room. Rosalyn was excited to one day become a physicist and possibly win a Nobel Prize.

Her path to scientific fame wasn’t clear-cut, however. Rosalyn’s family did not think any graduate school would accept and/or offer financial aid to a woman pursuing a degree in physics. Nonetheless, Rosalyn and her advisors persisted and the University of Illinois offered Rosalyn a teaching assistantship in 1941. She was the only woman on a faculty of 400 professors and teaching assistants. At the University of Illinois, Rosalyn earned her master’s degree and PhD.

After completing graduate school in 1945, Rosalyn began working at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in the Bronx to determine how to use radioisotopes in medicine. With little funding, Rosalyn relied on innovation and converted an old janitor’s closet to one of the nation’s first radioisotope labs. Rosalyn worked closely with her lab partner, Solomon Berson, and discovered how radioactive isotopes could measure blood, study metabolism, and diagnose diseases.


Rosalyn in her lab in the Bronx.

However, these discoveries were just the beginning of the duo’s collaboration. They soon applied their methods to hormones, creating the radioimmunoassay technique (RIA) by tagging hormones with a radioactive isotope and measuring the amount of antibodies created. The RIA technique is still used today to check for many different diseases and medical issues. Doctors use RIA to screen unborn babies for fatal diseases, detect thyroid issues, and assure blood banks are safe and clean.

Solomon and Rosalyn used their RIA method to research diabetes, an endocrine gland disorder that affected Yalow’s husband. The two scientists discovered how insulin


Rosalyn works with isotopes for her research.

worked in the body and determined the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The precision of RIA and the discoveries of Solomon and Rosalyn revolutionized endocrinology and has allowed doctors to better treat hormonal diseases.

Solomon died of a heart attacked in 1972, and Rosalyn was devastated. She lost her best friends and her lab partner. Rosalyn realized she needed to prove herself now that she was a lone woman in the scientific sphere. She worked hard and published over 60 research articles in only 4 years. Rosalyn never gave up on her dream and kept a chilled bottle of champagne in her office every year in case she won the Nobel Prize. In 1977, that dream came true when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work in endocrinology.

We all face obstacles, and Rosalyn is a prime example of how we should not give up on chasing our dreams. In her own words, “we must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us; we must match our aspirations with the competence, courage, and determination to succeed.”


To learn more about Rosalyn:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

Scientist Spotlight: Rita Levi-Montalcini

Researching for this blog post, I was first blown away by the number of reputable websites that came up after I Googled Rita Levi-Montalicini, but I was even more impressed by everything Rita accomplished.

Born April 22, 1909 in Italy to a wealthy Jewish family, Rita was raised in a Victorian way of life. Rita’s father, a notable mathematician and electrical engineer, loved his family dearly but also believed women’s roles were as mother and wives, not as professional workers. Rita, felt she could not live the expected feminine life and be enrolled in medical school in Turin. In 1936, at the age of 27, Rita graduated summa cum laude from the University of Turn medical school with a degree in Medicine and Surgery. She began a what was supposed to be a three-year specialization in neurology and psychiatry but this was cut short because of World War II. Due to her Jewish heritage, in 1938, Rita was barred from practicing medicine. However, this did not stop Rita in her quest for scientific greatness.

In the Spring of 1940, Rita set up a makeshift lab in her bedroom. Inspired by the work of Viktor Hamburger, she used sewing needles to dissect the nervous systems of embryonic chicks from the eggs she got from farmers. Even in these seemingly poor conditions from research, Rita could see the development of the motor neurons.

Viktor Hamburg ended up inviting Rita to work in his lab for a semester at Washington University in St. Louis in the United States in 1946. This “semester” turned in to 30 years of teaching a research, positions as Associate Professor and Full Professors, and dual citizenship with the United States and Italy.

In St. Louis, Rita and Stanley Cohen discovered the nerve growth factor (NGF) which is important in the growth and development of nerve cells and fibers in the peripheral nervous system. Although this discovery was not initially recognized and appreciated, the scientific community eventually realized all the possible cures that could come from growth factors.

Rita began missing her home country and in 1962, established the Institute of Cell Biology in Rome. From then on, she divided her time between Rome and St. Louis.

In 1986, Rita and Stanley won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work with NGF and in 1987 Rita was awarded the National Medal of Science. Rita’s work did not stop here, however. In 1992 Rita started an education foundation and in 2001 was named an Italian Senator for Life for her work toward equality and contributions to science. A year later, in 2002, Rita established the European Brain institute.

Pope Paul VI appointed Rita to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and instead of kissing the Holy Father’s hand as per protocol, Rita simply shook it.

As a woman who never gives up, Rita performed research until her death at the age of…. wait for it….103! Never letting anything stop her, once when her luggage was lost she lectured in a pressed nightgown and she even brought lab mice onto a plane to continue her research.

I don’t even know how to end this post but WOW. Rita was truly an inspiration and someone who stood tall in the face of adversity. She knew what she wanted and who she was and did not let anyone make her think otherwise. I am glad I got to meet her through writing this blog post. I will end with one of her quotes and something we all need to remember, “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”


For more about Rita’s amazing and long life:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

I love math and I cannot lie

I don’t think this blog post will give my love of math justice. Reader (channeling my inner Jane Eyre), I would need to sit you down and you would need to see for yourself. Then, you could see my face light up and my heart beat quicken. You could see me just stare in awe at the beautiful numbers (and letters in some case).  You could hear the tone of my voice change from normal to extraordinarily excited. Because we have the World Wide Web between us, you’ll have to settle for this mediocre blog post.

There’s something about math that makes it feel right. It’s different than other subjects. Everything else is up for interpretation. Even in science, you can view a certain experiment differently than someone else. But math…there’s always a right answer. It may not always come as a 1 or 2 or square or circle, but an answer can be found somehow. And if there isn’t an answer like . You can say the limit doesn’t exist. You can prove that there is no answer.

Not all subjects have that kind of certainty.

Nothing against English class (I’m an avid reader), but can I really prove that the author used an “ad hominem” argument in line five to make an appeal to his or her ethos? I can assume, but I cannot truly prove an author’s purpose or the effect it has on the reader. Maybe my neighbor feels the passage portrays nature as sad, while I think it portrays nature as indifferent.  Do I even care about how the author portrays nature at all?

I don’t feel that way towards math, though. Unlike other students, I rarely question when I will use the math in real life. I know I would. I see friends and family members solving differential equations or using trig for their jobs. Even if I didn’t see the practical applications, I wouldn’t care. I just love math so much.

There’s a beauty behind the numbers. There’s just so many cool things you can do with them. Using the numbers 1-9 you can make a number that simplifies to  to a couple decimal places. Very impressive if you ask me. You can see the video here.

Right now I am taking Calculus, and I can wholeheartedly say it is my favorite class. Every day, I discover something more amazing about the math. It also certainly does help that my teacher is so passionate about the subject. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Even if you hate math, you can’t help but get excited in her class.

I just did some homework about Riemann sums and there was a feeling of peace and satisfaction after I completed it. I didn’t feel like it was busywork, but rather enriching my life with wonderful mathematical knowledge.

So this ends my blog post on math. I apologize if it seems more of a babble and less of a blog post, but maybe that’s a way you can understand how much I love the subject. I get so excited about it I can’t formulate a coherent post.


Scientist Spotlight: Maria Agnesi

How many people have a mathematical curve named after them? Let me rephrase that, how many women have a mathematical curve named after them? I don’t know but I do know that Maria Gaetana Agnesi is one of these people. And guess what? Today is her birthday!

Born in Italy on May 16, 1718, she was the oldest of 21 children (her father had three wives). Because her father was a wealthy man, he was able to provide his children with the best of tutors.

Maria was lucky that she lived in the birthplace of the Renaissance because in Italy women were admired for their academic ability and were never scorned for their intellect. This attitude allowed Maria to prosper and eventually become a great mathematician.

By the age of nine Maria fluently spoke French (which she mastered at age five!), Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and other modern languages. She was known as a child prodigy and referred to as the “oracle of the seven tongues.” Also at the age of nine, she wrote and published (with the help of her tutor) a Latin discourse on the higher education of women as it was not practiced at the time.

Maria was a quiet and reserved child, but participated in the seminars and meetings of intellectuals that her father hosted. There she discussed philosophical and mathematical ideas. At the age of twenty, however, after her mother’s death, Maria took over the household duties and maintained a private life.  At the same time, she published a set of essays on philosophy and natural science called “Propositiones Philosophicae.” Much of it was based on the meetings she attended with her father.

Her most important work, a two volume book entitled “Analytical Institutions”, focused on differential and integral calculus. It was meant to be a textbook for her brothers but ended up making big waves in the world of academia. The ten years it took Maria to write it paid off because it helped bring “calculus to general use” (John H. Lienhard) and “was one of the first and most complete works on finite and infinitesimal calculus” (Agnes Scott College).


Drawing the “Witch of Agnesi” curve

Most people don’t hear of Maria Agnesi, rather they hear of the “Witch of Agenis”, her famous curve. If you look at the curve, there is nothing sinister about it. It is a versed sine curve called a versiera for the Latin vetere which means “to turn.” However, versiera was also an abbreviation for the Italian word avversiera which means “wife of the devil.” When versiera was translated into English it got confused with “witch.” If you want to learn more about this curve check out They can explain it better than I ever could wish.

May notable institutions recognized Maria Agnesi for her work. Maria was appointed as an honorary reader at the University of Bologna by Pope Benedict XIV. She was later sent a diploma and her named was added to the faculty list but there is controversy regarding if she accepted the position. Maria also became a member of the Bologna Academy of Science and the French Academy expressed their admiration but could not admit her because she was a woman.

Once Maria’s father died, she retired from mathematics to pursue charity work. Growing up she wanted to enter the covenant, but her father would not allow it. So, she spent his life making contributions to mathematics and then the rest of her life after his death taking care of the ill and dying. Some may argue that she only really worked with mathematics to please her father and that her real passion lied in charity.  In 1763, the University of Turn asked her for her opinion on recent articles on the calculus of variations she explained she was no longer interested in such topics. Maria was appointed the director of the Pio Instituto Trivulzo, a home for the ill, and served the needy until her death.

For more about Maria:

Career Corner: Actuaries

The first time I heard about actuaries I thought they were people who did some stuff with birds. Maybe I was confused with an aviary, a place where they keep birds? Nonetheless, I was wrong.

Actuaries deal with numbers, not birds. They may deal with birds, if they are calculating financial risk for an aviary.

And that, is primarily what actuaries do. They calculate, using mathematical models, financial risks for companies and help the companies minimize the cost of risks. They mathematically calculate the chance of future events occurring and then plan ways to prevent unwanted events. If these undesirables end up occurring, actuaries figure out to reduce their impact. I guess you could think of actuaries as financial superheroes, they predict the problems, try to stop the problems, and then if they can’t stop the problem, do everything in their power to alleviate the consequences of the problem. Actuaries do a lot of business with insurance agencies, though their expertise is also used in many other areas.

Actuaries need to be strong in business, statistics, and most importantly mathematics. I personally love math. Calculus is currently my favorite class of the ones I am taking. The fact that math is not up for debate, there is an answer or there is not, draws me to it. There is always a way to either find a solution or admit there is no solution.

Alas, this is not a math appreciation post but a post about actuaries. Time to get back to business (no pun intended). My calculus teacher recommended to my mom that I be an actuary, as did my dentist and a few others.

It takes a lot to become an actuary, however, but the rewards are fruitful. Actuaries are in high demand and always needed. They never have to worry about losing their job because companies always need someone to determine risk. Actuary science is also a very lucrative job. My dentist said his son’s friend entered with a starting salary of $80,000 with no internship experience under his belt.

All these benefits come at an initial price, though, because there are a lot of tests needed to become certified. Many people give up because the math gets too complicated or the stress becomes too high. It takes a special kind of person, but maybe that person is YOU.

Actuary science is often a forgotten career path, but one not to be understated. If you love math, it could be an option for you; I know I am looking at it as an option for me. Who knows, maybe one day we will be crunching numbers together (at an aviary, of course).


To learn more about actuaries:

Scientist Spotlight: Mileva Einstein-Maric

Anyone could tell you who Albert Einstein is. School children know his equation  without even knowing what the letters mean. Einstein has become synonymous with genius. I mean, there was even a TV show “Little Einsteins”! But contrary to what you may be thinking this post isn’t about Einstein, at least not Albert. This post is highlighting the less popular but equally important Einstein: Mileva Einstein-Maric. She was his first wife and had no blood relations to him, unlike his second wife who is justifiably pointed out to be his double-first cousin.

Mileva was born in 1875 in Austria-Hungary (present-day Serbia). Coming from a wealthy family, Mileva’s father got permission for Mileva to enter an all-boys school where she received the highest grades possible in physics and mathematics. After falling ill, Mileva decided to move to Switzerland where she attended the “Girls High School” in Zurich. Once she passed the Matura-Exam, Mileva began studying medicine at the University of Zurich. However, she soon transferred to the Zurich Polytechnic where she met Albert Einstein. Mileva was the only women out of a group of six students for a physics-teaching course.

Initially, Mileva did well in her course but ended up failing the final teaching diploma exam because of the math part. Mileva worked harder and planned to retake the test but found out she was pregnant with Einstein’s baby. Three months into her pregnancy, she failed the exam again without any improvement to her score. Mileva ended up abandoning her studies and little is known about this daughter, Liserl. It is though the child died or was given up for adoption.

Albert and Mileva married in Swtizerland at a simple ceremony only witnessed by the original members of the Olympia Academy, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht. The pair went on to have two sons but ended up divorcing after about 15 years. As part of their settlement, Mileva received all Albert’s Nobel Prize money and invested it in real estate.

However, throughout their marriage Mileva remained an asset to Albert. She discussed his papers with him and possibly contributed to many of his theories. There is a lot of controversy surrounding how much Mileva actually worked with Albert to develop his famous works. Was she truly a part of the process? Or was she just a wife supporting her husband? Scholars have speculated this for years and continue to examine their correspondence and relationship. Whether she directly contributed or not, Mileva and Albert both shared a deep love of physics and math. They must have bounced around ideas with each other and she probably influenced some of his ideas.  She was a very smart woman who might just have gotten too caught up in love to complete her degree, but I think she deserves a lot of credit. Perhaps she had the ability to do more but was caught in her husband’s shadow.

More about Einstein’s first wife: