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Amalie Emmy Noether was born to a Jewish family in Bavaria on March 23, 1882. By her death she was considered by Albert Einstein and many others the greatest female mathematician in the world at the time, and probably one of the greatest mathematicians in history. She had a good start as her father was the German mathematician Max Noether. However she planned to teach English and French.  She changed her mind and enrolled to the mathematics department at the University of Erlangen, where her father taught. After she finished her dissertation onder Paul Gorden she worked at the university without pay (women were not considered worthy of salaries) for seven years.

She was then offered a position at the University of Göttingen.  The philosophical faculty did not like the idea of a woman on the faculty and so she taught for four years under David Hilbert's name. She was obviously talented, and with the intervention of both Hilbert and Einstein, eventually this was grudgingly acknowledged by appointing her a privatdozent (also without pay).  Still she quickly became the most important non-faculty member, staying at Göttingen until the rise of Hitler and her dismissal as a Jew in 1933. She was then hired by Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, and moved to the United States, turning down a counter offer from Moscow. Unfortunately her tenure was short-lived as she died at 53 from complications as a result of an operation for an ovarian cyst.

For as short a life as Emmy Noether had she accomplished a huge amount.  Among other accomplishments her classic paper "Idealtheorie in Ringbereichen" in which she discussed mathematical ideals in commutative rings.  Certainly her crowning achievement was the development of Noether's Theorem, which dealt with the calculus of variations. This has been a major contribution to the development of modern physics. Her work in calculus and higher level algebra were major contributions. Not only Einstein, but such mathematicians as Hermann Weyl, Jean Dieudonné, Norbert Wiener, and Pavel Alexandrov, considered her to be the most important woman mathematicians of the time, and indeed one of the most important mathematicians in history! Despite the high opinion of physicists and mathematicians she was denied most of the honors she would deserve if she had been male.  She was honored by being plenary speaker at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich. It seems that while her colleagues held her in high regard, the German establishment did not.  Being Jewish certainly did not help her, especially as the Nazi's rose to power.  After she was dismissed, one of her students even came to a private discussion group that she had formed in a Nazi uniform. She laughed it off, but it soon became all too clear what was happening.  

Unfortunately I was probably not directly touched by Noether's brilliant work, except perhaps slightly in physics and algebra classes, but I think it is well recognized today that she was certainly one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the Twentieth Century, and considering the competition that was a great complement, one not easily won by a woman. As Natalie Angier of the New York Times put it she was the "Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of."    

Internet References:

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether, Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Mon Apr 08, 2013 at 06:38 PM PDT.

Also republished by SciTech and Community Spotlight.

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