Inspiring mathematical women

Celebrating International Women’s Day, and how we recognise the contributions of women in mathematics here at Maths Pathway.

International Women’s Day (also known as the UN Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace) is held every year on the 8th of March. On this day we celebrate the achievements of women around the world, and their enormous (and often ignored) positive impact on society.

The earliest history of this day was in 1908, when 15000 women marched through the streets of New York demanding fairer treatment. Today, people around the world continue the fight to combat the injustice, oppression, and sexism that women still experience.

Here at Maths Pathway we strongly support this cause and try to do our small part to make the world a better place for everyone. The mathematics field (as well as so called ‘hard’ sciences in general) are often criticised for it’s exclusion and under-representation of women. It’s part of our responsibility to do everything we can to combat these problems.

One of the core values of International Women’s Day is ‘Appreciation’: The commitment to identifying and celebrating the important work and successes of women in the past and today. Here in our office, all our meeting rooms are named for great mathematicians of the past, which naturally includes some of the great female mathematicians. Here is a little information about the women featured on our walls:

   Sophie Germain

Sophie Germain (01/04/1779–27/06/1831) was a French mathematician who explored her passion for maths despite opposition from her parents and society. Her work focused on elastic theory and prime numbers. There is a specific type of prime, the ‘Sophie Germain prime’ named for her, which she used in her research into Fermat’s Last Theorem. These primes are now used in different fields, including cryptography and pseudo-random number generation. She’s also recognised by the French Academy of Sciences with a yearly prize named in her honour.

   Emmy Noether

Amalie ‘Emmy’ Noether (23/03/1882–14/04/1935) was a prolific German mathematician recognised by the field as being one of the most important women in the history of mathematics. Her fields of interest spanned a wide range of topics and influenced the fields of abstract algebra and theoretical physics. ‘Noether’s theorem’ is a theorem she proved, which describes the mathematical behaviour that every system that displays symmetry will have a corresponding conservation law. This theorem is still used in theoretical physics today.

   Ada Lovelace

Augusta ‘Ada’ King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (10/12/1815–27/11/1852) was an English mathematician and writer who is most well known for her contributions to the early development of the field of computer science, and as the ‘world’s first programmer’. In her work on Babbage’s ‘Analytical Engine’ she is thought to have constructed what was the first documented algorithm. Unlike other researchers of the day, Lovelace was one of the first to look into the potential of computers to do more than just ‘crunch numbers’ and the potential impact they could have on society at large.

For more female mathematicians from history, see this great article from Mental Floss.

It’s important to note that not all great female mathematicians lived long ago! There are many great female mathematicians working in the modern era who also deserve our appreciation. From the work that Katherine Johnson did with NASA on the Apollo missions, through to Maryam Mirzakhani being awarded the Fields Medal in 2014 — the first woman to receive this honour — there are many great female mathematicians alive today who deserve recognition.

To learn more about women in mathematics, see this great article from The Atlantic.

Illustrations by Mabel Chen.

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