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Emmy Noether's Contributions to Physics

Updated on June 1, 2012

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".

Read more about Noether's Theorem


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.

Emmy Noether
Emmy Noether

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.

Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra
Emmy Noether: The Mother of Modern Algebra

Aimed at teenage readers, this book tells the story of Emmy Noether's success against the odds, which should be an inspiration to young girls everywhere.

 
Women in Mathematics (MIT Press)
Women in Mathematics (MIT Press)

Emmy Noether is not the only woman to have made an important contribution to mathematics. This book follows the lives of several female mathematical geniuses.

 

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.

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    • mikaylab93 profile image

      mikaylab93 6 years ago from Middleton, Idaho

      Interesting biography,I hadn't heard of Emmy Noether before, and this article made her life intriguing to read about. It is really sad that the "Nazi Purge" took out so many great people, including some great mathematics, but I am glad that she was able to make it over the the united states.

      This same sort of thing happen to Einstein didn't it? Anyway, thank you for writing, great hub =)!

    • topquark profile image
      Author

      topquark 6 years ago from UK

      Yes, Einstein also moved to the US because of the Nazis in 1933, from the Berlin Academy of Sciences. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, thanks for commenting.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      The hub whets the appetite and anyone reading it cannot help but want to know more. I thought you were going to go into Noether's Theorem and explain it in a way even a layman could understand and then it ends. That's not fair LOL! You have got yourself another follower I'm hooked.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 6 years ago from Isle of Man

      I'm a silly billy I completely overlooked the link to Noether's Theorem and that is where I am off to now!

    • topquark profile image
      Author

      topquark 6 years ago from UK

      I should probably make that link more obvious. Thanks.

    • baterije profile image

      baterije 5 years ago from Slovenija

      Thanks for useful info about her. A lot a things that people shud know about her !

    • Ransom Stephens profile image

      Ransom Stephens 5 years ago from Northern California

      Nice working bringing Emmy to the people! She was an amazing woman and it's a crime that so few people are aware of her genius. I've been giving a speech about her for a couple of years now (http://youtu.be/1_MpQG2xXVo) and folks are blown away that they haven't heard of her. Good work.

    • topquark profile image
      Author

      topquark 5 years ago from UK

      Thanks for stopping by Ransom! The link in your comment doesn't work (the bracket at the end has been added into the hyperlink by mistake) but I thought the talk was fantastic, so I've edited the hub to include it - with reference to you and your book, of course. If you have any objection to being included, let me know and I'll remove it. Thanks again.

    • Ransom Stephens profile image

      Ransom Stephens 5 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks top!

      Were you on CDF or D-zero? Do... I know you?

    • topquark profile image
      Author

      topquark 5 years ago from UK

      I doubt it. I'm UK based and have been doing theoretical work on 2D field models.

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