The Greatest Mathematician Who Has Ever Lived

“In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” – Albert Einstein 

As soon as education became available to women Amalie Emmy Noether entered an all-girls school to become a language instructor. Three years into her career and having passed her certification testing she decided to “take charge of her life”, and spent two years auditing classes at the University of Erlangen.

Noether pursued a career in math where she developed an abstract point of view and applied it to algebra. Her talent was too great to ignore and she was quickly integrated with a team of mathematicians, many who worked with Albert Einstein on his theory of relativity. Working with this team Noethers skills sharpened but faced many challenges because of her gender. At this time women were largely excluded from academic professions and Noether could not acquire faculty status at a university, even after having made 3 attempts with in four years and a letter from Einstein in her favor was barely enough to land her in a junior faculty position without pay.

Noether.jpgFinally, thirteen years after earning her doctorate at the age of 39 she could legally lecture although it was unpaid she could teach under her own name. Noether continued to work with her team where her math qualities were constantly improving, she developed a theory which proved if the right side of the equation equals zero, then the integral within parenthesis of the original equation also equals zero. Knowing this she understood that “a problem” has the same outcome no matter where it is done.

This was the foundation stone for Einstein’s Quantum theory, which won him a Noble Prize in 1921. Abstract algebra, ring theory, number theory are a few of Noether’s work. She realized simple connections and underlying similarities in mathematical concepts. This made her the first to find similar principles in large numbers of phenomena’s. She was also the first and only women invited to attend a conference of the International Congress of Mathematics in Zurich Switzerland. During her lifetime She received little to no recognition for her work. This did not discourage her to continue teaching her methods and explanations to those who attended her classes. Sometimes she would have students from out of the country to take her classes.Forced out of Germany by the Nazis in 1933, Emmy Noether came to Bryn Mawr College, where she soon collected many students and colleagues around her. She died there just two years later at the age of fifty-three.Even after being dismissed from the university she continued to lecture from home for those who attended and wished to listen from her couch or patio. It wasn’t until 35 years after her death was her work thoroughly reviewed and recognized.

In 1933, after the Nazi’s rose to power, she was forced to leave Germany and move to the United States. Noether started teaching at Bryn Mawr College in Pennslyvania, where she soon collected many students and colleagues around her. She died there just two years later at the age of fifty-three. It wasn’t until 35 years after her death was her work thoroughly reviewed and recognized.


Marcy Corona, Women’s Museum of California Intern

Learn about more notable women in STEM by visiting our current exhibit, To Observe and Wonder

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