ma069 - Emmy Noether, Greatest Woman Mathematician Clark...

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Emmy Noether, Greatest Woman Mathematician Clark Kimberling Mathematics Teacher, March 1982, Volume 84, Number 3, pp. 246–249. Mathematics Teacher is a publication of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). With more than 100,000 members, NCTM is the largest organization dedicated to the improvement of mathematics education and to the needs of teachers of mathematics. Founded in 1920 as a not-for-profit professional and educational association, NCTM has opened doors to vast sources of publications, products, and services to help teachers do a better job in the classroom. For more information on membership in the NCTM, call or write: NCTM Headquarters Office 1906 Association Drive Reston, Virginia 20191-9988 Phone: (703) 620-9840 Fax: (703) 476-2970 Internet: http://www.nctm.org E-mail: [email protected] Article reprinted with permission from Mathematics Teacher, copyright March 1982 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. All rights reserved. E mmy Noether was born over one hundred years ago in the German university town of Erlangen, where her father, Max Noether, was a professor of mathematics. At that time it was very unusual for a woman to seek a university education. In fact, a leading historian of the day wrote that talk of “surrendering our universities to the invasion of women . . . is a shameful display of moral weakness.” 1 At the University of Erlangen, the Academic Senate in 1898 declared that the admission of women students would “overthrow all academic order.” 2 In spite of all this, Emmy Noether was able to attend lectures at Erlangen in 1900 and to matriculate there officially in 1904. On 13 December 1907 she received her Ph.D. under the direction of Paul Gordan. Transition: From Gordan to Hilbert Gordan, near retirement at that time, was known as the “king of invariant theory,” a title he had earned because of his truly phenomenal ability to carry out symbolic calculations in his head. But Gordan had his limitations. As Max Noether put it, “Gordan was never able to do justice to the development of fundamental concepts; even in his lectures he completely avoided all basic definitions of conceptual nature, even that of the limit.” 3 Thus it was essential to Emmy Noether’s development as a mathematician that Gordan’s successor, Ernst Fischer, influenced her away from Gordan’s type of research and toward the methods of David Hilbert, who is now widely regarded as the greatest mathematician since Gauss (see, for example, Reid 1970).
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Noether’s knowledge of invariant theory appeared useful to Hilbert in his work on Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, and she accepted an invitation to move to the University of Göttingen. In 1918 she presented her paper, Habilitationsschrift , on differential invariants, including a theorem now known as Noether’s theorem. When Einstein read Noether’s work, he wrote to Hilbert, “Yesterday I received from Miss Noether a very interesting paper on invariant forms . . . she certainly knows what she is
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ma069 - Emmy Noether, Greatest Woman Mathematician Clark...

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