Mathematician Emmy Noether was born into an unequal world. In fact, this world was so resistant to women’s rights that Noether remained fairly unknown despite her great achievements.
As a mathematician and physicist, Noether proved just how capable women are. Even Albert Einstein acknowledged her work in a letter penned a few days after her death in which he said: "Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."
Over the past few years, Noether’s life and work have been getting the recognition they deserve. She was honored with a Google doodle on her 133rd birthday, March 23, 2015.
Amalie Emmy Noether (NER-ter) was born in Germany in 1882. It was a time when being both female and being Jewish were not conducive to success.
She was surrounded by mathematics and science, as her father and two of her brothers were scientists. Noether initially went through the traditional educational route for women. She learned the piano, finished school, and became qualified to teach English and French. But she soon found that her passions lay in math.
In order to pursue higher-level math education, Noether applied to join the University of Erlangen. Unfortunately, German universities did not accept female students, so Noether was only allowed to audit classes. However, she did so well on the exams that she was allowed to graduate from the university. Noether experienced similar discrimination as she pursued a Ph. D and a job. In fact, she was initially given an unpaid position at the University of Göttingen and wrote lectures under a man’s name!
Although Noether struggled to find a place in what was—and sadly still is—the male-dominated field of mathematics, her success proved that she truly belonged in this field. She was a pioneer in abstract algebra, a field of math that studies abstract structures and patterns rather than equations and numbers.
After her work with abstract algebra, Noether began studying physics, which led to her greatest discovery: Noether’s Theorem. This theorem basically states that any system in symmetry can be explained by a law of conservation. For example, “time symmetry” describes a system that will observe the same law of physics regardless of time (ex. a ball will fall in the same path whether it is thrown today or tomorrow). All systems with time symmetry will always follow the Law of Conservation of Energy.
Noether’s Theorem changed the face of physics. It created a link between Newton’s laws of motion and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Further, it showed that there was a connection between algebraic concepts such as symmetry and physical concepts such as energy. Her work encouraged scientists to look for other types of symmetry and eventually led to the prediction of the existence of the Higgs Boson.