Math

Emmy Noether Is The Incredible Mathematician You've Never Heard Of

Born Amalie Emmy Noether on March 23, 1882, Emmy Noether was a mathematician who proved to be hugely influential. Albert Einstein called Emmy Noether "the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began." Her theorem (Noether's theorem), which deals with symmetry in nature and the universal laws of conservation, is considered by some to be as important as Einstein's theory of relativity.

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Why Was She Such A Big Deal?

According to the New York Times, physicist and novelist Ransom Stephens once said, "You can make a strong case that [Noether's] theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built." With a claim like that, it's hard to comprehend that her name still doesn't ring a bell for most people.

Though she was hugely prolific, publishing a ton of groundbreaking papers, Noether is remembered most for Noether's theorem. This theorem, which is often asserted to be the most beautiful result in mathematical physics, linked symmetry in nature to the universal laws of conservation. "It's definitely true that Noether's theorem is part of the foundation on which modern physics is built," says physicist Natalia Toro of the Perimeter Institute and the University of Waterloo, as quoted in Symmetry Magazine. "We apply it every day to deep and well-tested principles like conservation of energy and momentum."

How Does No One Know About Her?

Emmy Noether isn't a household name like Albert Einstein for a few reasons, the first being that she was a woman. (You don't need us to tell you that accomplishments by women throughout history were largely overlooked, right? Good.) As a result, Noether published many papers under a man's name. 

She was also in the not-so-lucky circumstance of being a Jew in Germany during the time of the Nazi Party's rise to power. Yet, she attended university (when it was largely illegal for a woman to do that). And she taught at a university (before being forced out of her position by Nazi rule). Despite all the horrible misfortunes and scenarios Noether faced, her genius could not be suppressed.

To learn more about Noether and other pioneering women, we recommend "Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World." The audiobook is free with a trial of Audible.

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Watch And Learn: The Best Videos We Found About Emmy Noether

Noether's Theorem Explained

This is probably the simplest explanation out there, but it's still quite tricky.

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The Most Important Woman in the History of Mathematics

...and you're probably learning about her for the first time right now.

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Key Facts In This Video

  1. Noether's theorem connects conservation laws and symmetries in nature. 00:33

  2. Bicycle wheels don't fall over while rolling because they are rotationally symmetric, meaning that they conserve angular momentum. 00:58

  3. Because she was Jewish and a woman, Emmy Noether was persecuted and denied faculty positions throughout her life. 01:44

Who Was Emmy Noether?

It's a serious wonder she isn't a household name.

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