This article chronicles the life of Emmy Noether, arguably the most significant female mathematician in history. She was a distinguished academic from Germany who made substantial advances in theoretical physics and abstract algebra. She created the theories of rings, fields, and algebra and is regarded as one of the foremost mathematicians of her time.1,2

So, who is Emmy Noether?

Emmy Noether, a prominent pioneer in math throughout the 20th century, defied all expectations with her ground-breaking accomplishments. At a time when males were considered cognitively superior to women, Noether won acclaim for her extraordinary intelligence. Although she attended finishing school and was qualified to teach English and French, she discovered that math piqued her interest more. She aced the entrance exam and audited classes until the University of Erlangen (now University of Erlangen-Nürnberg) eventually allowed women to enroll, at which point she earned her PhD in 1907.3,4,5

Noether engaged in research and, in a sense, created the entire discipline of abstract algebra. She never referred to herself as a revolutionary, but her work laid the groundwork for a fresh perspective on math. Even though Noether produced groundbreaking work at Erlangen, she was not paid or given a title, and her only financial support came from filling in for her father’s absentee math courses on occasion.1,3,4

It wasn’t until several years later that the mathematicians Felix Klein and David Hilbert invited her to join their team at Gottingen University. They needed her to find a solution to Einstein’s theory of general relativity’s perplexing energy conservation issue, and Noether solved the problem by applying her understanding of invariance. Noether’s theorem, one of physics’ most important theories, was born from her attempt to solve this problem.3,4,5

What is Noether’s theorem?

According to the theorem, “If a system has a continuous symmetry property, then there are corresponding quantities whose values are conserved in time.7 In simpler terms, some fundamental quantity is conserved wherever there is symmetry in nature. In this context, symmetry refers to a transformation of the physical system that has no impact on the measured quantities.6,7

Applying Noether’s theorem to commonplace classical occurrences like a game of pool or the pendulum swing is simple. The theorem enables us to establish strong links between experimental findings and the basic mathematical formulation of the physics behind them. A well-known example of how Noether’s theorem supports a fundamental assumption in physics is the conservation of charge.6,7

Emmy Noether’s Contributions

She is remembered mainly among physicists for her 1918 Noether’s theorem. However, many of her other works, such as the Noether theorems, equations, rings, modules, and groups are well known among mathematicians.8

Noether developed much of modern abstract algebra over the course of her career: the grammar and syntax of math, enabling us to express what we need. In addition, she contributed to the theory of groups, another approach to handling symmetries; this work impacted the mathematical underpinnings of quantum physics and superstring theory.5,6,7

Emmy Noether was a creative genius who brilliantly combined symmetries and conservation laws, two fundamental concepts in physics. She also received an invitation to lecture at the International Congress of Mathematicians in 1928, held in Bologna, and again in September 1932, held in Zürich, as acknowledgment for her great contributions to math.5,6

Being Jewish, Noether lost her job when the Nazis came to power. Noether moved to America, started lecturing once a week at Princeton, and served as a visiting professor at Bryn Mawr College. Sadly, she only had two years to relish this. Noether passed away in 1935, at the age of 53, from complications from surgery.2,5 She was honored by many of the greatest mathematicians and physicists of the time. “Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.” wrote Einstein in the New York Times upon Noether’s passing.9

If this article about Emmy Noether has inspired you, and you want to learn about other motivational stories that are encouraging, read Unsung Women Heroes Whose Contributions Changed the Tech World! African American Computer Science Pioneers, Katherine Johnson, Margaret Hamilton, Grace Murray Hopper, and Ada Lovelace.

You can also visit BYJU’S FutureSchool Blog to read more inspiring articles on math and coding.

References:

1. Emmy Noether | Biography & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Emmy-Noether
2. Emmy Noether (1882 – 1935) – Biography – MacTutor History of Mathematics. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Noether_Emmy/
3. Emmy Noether. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://mathwomen.agnesscott.org/women/noether.htm
4. Emmy Noether – Biography, Facts and Pictures. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.famousscientists.org/emmy-noether/
5. Emmy Noether — Inventor of abstract algebra – Rosie Riveters. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.rosieriveters.com/emmy_noether_inventor_of_abstract_algebra
6. Emmy Noether | Mathematician who proved Noether’s theorem | New Scientist. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.newscientist.com/people/emmy-noether/
7. Noether’s Theorem: Symmetry Runs the Game #InternationalWomensDay – Digital Science. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.digital-science.com/blog/2018/03/noethers-theorem-symmetry-runs-game-internationalwomensday/
8. Emmy Noether: Creative Mathematical Genius. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/noether.html
9. Emmy Noether, the Most Significant Mathematician You’ve Never Heard Of – The New York Times. (n.d.). Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/27/science/emmy-noether-the-most-significant-mathematician-youve-never-heard-of.html