Emmy Noether's Contributions to Physics
Emmy Noether (1882-1935) was a female German mathematician, who produced groundbreaking work in a time when women were banned from studying or working in many universities. She is the author of Noether's Theorem, which is of huge importance in theoretical physics and mathematical field theory to this day. She was described by Albert Einstein as "the most important woman in the history of mathematics".
Emmy Noether's Life: A Woman In A Man's World
Born in 1885, Emmy was the daughter of Max Noether, who was himself a professor of mathematics at the Mathematics Institute in Erlangen, Germany. Like most middle-class young women at the time, Emmy was encouraged to concentrate her study on arts and languages, as well as learning to cook, clean and play musical instruments. She qualified to teach French and English at schools for girls, but instead bucked tradition and opted to take classes in mathematics at the University of Erlangen. As she was a woman, she was not permitted to officially register as a student and had to obtain the permissions of individual lecturers to sit in on their classes.
Despite this prejudice, Emmy was eventually allowed to take an exam which would qualify her to become a graduate student in mathematics. However, even after passing her doctorate, the university would not give her a job teaching students because they had a policy against female professors. Undeterred, Emmy Noether continued with her mathematical research, covering her father's classes at the Mathematics Institue when he was ill.
Having published several important papers on her work, Emmy Noether's expertise came to the attention of David Hilbert, an influential mathematician at the University of Gottingen. Hilbert tried to get Noether a position to work with them, but the faculty objected to a woman mathematician joining the university. Hilbert ignored them and recruited her anyway, although she was still not paid for the teaching she did there. It was here that she made her biggest contribution to physics by proving Noether's theorem, which has been described as "on a par with Pythagoras's theorem" in terms of its usefulness to physics.
Hitler's "Great Purge" of 1933
When Hitler came to power, Emmy Noether fell victim to a different sort of prejudice. Along with many other great Jewish mathematicians, she was dismissed from the university in 1933. The faculty lost the majority of the top faculty in this Nazi purge. Although the University of Gottingen today has a well-respected mathematics department, it has never returned to its former status as a world-class center of mathematical excellence.
Noether moved to the United States to teach mathematics at a women's college in Pennsylvania, where she was finally welcomed into a paid position and surrounded by female colleagues. She stayed here, at Bryn Mwar College, until her death in 1935.
A talk on Emmy Noether by Ransom Stephens
The above video is a talk by physicist and hubpages user Ransom Stephens, about Emmy Noether's life and work. He is the author of "The God Patent", a novel featuring the character "Emmy Nutter" as a homage to the great mathematician.