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Chaos Theory has probably been more in the public mind since the first "Jurassic Park" movie, but few probably realize that the mathematics behind it was in part developed by a woman and mathematical genius - Mary Cartwright.

She was born in Aynho, Northamptonshire, on the 17th of December, 1900, where her father was vicar at the Anglican church. Through one of her grandmothers she was descended from the poet John Donne. Although highly interested in history, she decided to pursue an honors curriculum in mathematics. She graduated 2nd class (almost nobody received a 1st in mathematics that year) from St. Hugh's College, Oxford in 1923.  Although this somewhat discouraged her, and after teaching for a while, she returned to Oxford to get her doctorate in mathematics.  While at Oxford she received the Yarrow Research Fellowship to Cambridge, where she continued her studies.  She received her doctorate at Oxford in 1930 under the direction of G. H. Hardy. Hardy moved to Cambridge in 1931 and he and J. E. Littlewood recommended that Cartwright be given an assistant lectureship at Girton College, Cambridge. She became a close collaborator with J. E. Littlewood in the early work on chaos theory.  They described the mathematics behind what would be called the "butterfly effect" in which small causes could cascade into a chain of events that became more and more complex and significant. Thus a butterfly flapping its wings in Africa could cause the formation of a hurricane in the Atlantic.

In 1945 she published a simplified proof that Pi is irrational and in 1947 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, the first female mathematician to be so honored.  Her abilities in complex mathematics were phenomenal. She was appointed Mistress of Girton in 1948, an honor that she could not turn down, thus making her an administrator and somewhat limiting her research work. She later became Reader in the Theory of Functions in Cambridge in 1959, holding this last position for ten years.  Cartwright is credited with important work in mathematics on the theory of functions and differential equations, summations, integral functions, maximum and minimum moduli, and numerous others.  She published over 90 journal articles.  For those who actually understand the complex mathematics pn which she worked (I'm not one of them!)  I recommend the first reference below.  

Mary Cartwright never felt that being a woman constricted her in any way.  Her personality was such that she succeeded eventually at just about everything she tried and she was respected by most, if not all, other mathematicians for her ability to zero in on the core of a given problem. She died at the age of 97, a highly honored pioneer of mathematical theory, although probably little known to the general public.  

Internet References:

Mary Cartwright http://www.ams.org/...

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright http://www.agnesscott.edu/...

Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/...

Dame Mary Cartwright http://cwp.library.ucla.edu/...

Mary Cartwright http://en.wikipedia.org/...

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Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Tue Jul 09, 2013 at 10:36 AM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech, History for Kossacks, and Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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