Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brief Biography of Emmy Noether

To celebrate her 130th birthday this month, the NY Times has an informative biography of "The Mighty Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of" - Emmy Noether (read it quickly before it is no longer available for free online).

Of course, to many of us in physics and mathematics, her name is quite familiar, and if you need a concise reason why she is so important in physics, this description of the Noether theorem would settle the case:

What the revolutionary theorem says, in cartoon essence, is the following: Wherever you find some sort of symmetry in nature, some predictability or homogeneity of parts, you’ll find lurking in the background a corresponding conservation — of momentum, electric charge, energy or the like. If a bicycle wheel is radially symmetric, if you can spin it on its axis and it still looks the same in all directions, well, then, that symmetric translation must yield a corresponding conservation. By applying the principles and calculations embodied in Noether’s theorem, you’ll see that it is angular momentum, the Newtonian impulse that keeps bicyclists upright and on the move.
I continue to be amazed at many of these women scientists and mathematicians who, despite all they had to endure during the times that they lived in, were able to persevere and produce such profound body of work. It is amazing enough to produce these amazing work. But considering that these women had so many social obstacles that the men didn't have, one can't help be impressed by what they had accomplished.


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