Women in mathematics

On March 8th we celebrate the International Day of Women. Read the texts to know more about some incredible women

Hypatia (370-415 AD)

Hypatia was the daughter of prominent Egyptian Mathematician Theon with whom she collaborated on several famous mathematical works. Since she was the daughter of an upper-class mathematician and philosopher, she received the same education as her male peers and it wasn’t long before she proved that she was a more accomplished mathematician than many, including even her father. 

She is considered the first known female math teacher in history and was also known for teaching astronomy and how to use an astrolabe device to model astronomical events. She also made several advancements to the field of mathematics, namely her work on conic sections and developing the concepts of parabolas and ellipses by dividing cones into planes.

Sophie Germain (1776-1831)

Sophie Germain was born in Paris, France in 1776 and become infatuated with mathematics at a young age. As a teenager, she spent her time reading every mathematics books available in her library and taught herself Latin so she could study the works of Issac Newton and Euler. At the age of 18, she enrolled in the famous math academy École Polytechnique, which was no easy feat for a woman at that time. To get her professor’s attention, she submitted letters sharing her mathematical work using a fake male student’s name. After discovering that the work was actually done by Sophie, her professor was extremely impressed and became her mentor, helping her to establish herself and become respected in a male-dominated field of mathematics.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Ada Lovelace was an English Mathematician who is regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. In 1836, she wrote the world’s first computer program known as an algorithm for an Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. 

In 1852, Lovelace died due to an illness at only 37 years old. However, despite her short life, she made significant contributions to the fields of mathematics and computer science that can still be seen to this day. She is still regarded as the first person to understand the potential of a computing machine. Without the contributions of Ada Lovelace, the modern computer and associated algorithms that we take for granted may not exist.

Sofia Kovalevskaya (1850-1891)

Sofia Kovalevskaya is yet another incredible and inspiring female mathematician who overcame the gender biases of her time to make significant contributions to the field of mathematics. After demonstrating her ability to perform advanced mathematics at a young age, Sofia began attending classes at the University of Heidelberg only after receiving special permission since she was not a boy.

Sofia would struggle for most of her adult life to gain the same privileges to study and teach mathematics as her male counterparts did. Despite this struggle, she would become a highly-regarded math professor and was the first woman to receive a doctorate in mathematics and the first woman in Europe to become a full-time professor. Her greatest contribution to the field of mathematics was in her studies of differential equations and elliptic integrals, namely in relation to understanding the workings of Saturn and its rings.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935)

Emmy Noether was born in Germany and is arguably the most influential women mathematician in history. After initially being reluctant to study mathematics at a young age, she eventually joined her father and brother, who were both mathematicians as well, and enrolled in a doctoral program at the University of Erlangen in Germany. Noether is best known for discovering Noether’s Theorem, which links mathematics and physics in an extremely important way. The theorem, which is named after her, relates the laws of nature and conservation to mathematical symmetry and how we understand the universe.

At the time, her theory was truly groundbreaking and influenced in how mathematicians and scientists thought about and understood the workings of our universe.

Dorothy Vaughn (1910-2008)

Dorothy Vaughn is known for being a respected high school math teacher turned “human supercomputer” for NASA. Vaughn worked on a racially segregated team of computer programmers assigned with using supercomputers to perform computations associated with NASA space launches, including sending astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. She was the first African American female supervisor at NASA. She went on to play a key role in NASA’s use of supercomputers to assist in aeronautical projects and space launches.

Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine Johnson made major contributions in the fields of orbital and aeronautics mechanics, which were critical to the successful launch of Astronaut John Glenn into orbit by the United States in 1962. Katherine Johnson spent 35 years working for NASA and developed a reputation for being a master at performing difficult and complex calculations. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Valerie Thomas (1943-Present)

Valerie Thomas is a distinguished scientist and is best known for inventing the llusion Transmitter—a 3-Dimensional Imaging Technology that was the first of its kind when it debuted in 1980. In fact, this technology is the basis for modern 3D imaging tech that we see in modern televisions, video games, and movies!

Additionally, Valerie Thomas works as a developer and engineer for NASA from 1964 to 1995. During her career at NASA, she managed a team that facilitated the reception of the first satellite images to be received from outer space.

Mae Carol Jemison (1956-Present)

Mae Carol Jemison is an incredibly talented and inspirational figure. As a decorated engineer, physician, mathematician, and NASA astronaut, she is best known for becoming the first African American woman to go to outer space, which happened when she was a member of the Endeavour Space Shuttle that launched into orbit in 1992.

Before becoming an astronaut, Jemison served in the Peace Corps as a general practice physician.

Today, she serves on the council for the Science Matters initiative, with the goal of encouraging children to pursue STEM careers at a young age.

Information taken from mashup math

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