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Remembering Amalie Noether

Posted by Richard on March 27, 2012

The New York Times isn’t totally bereft of value (only in politics and economics). For instance, there’s Natalie Angier’s article about a largely forgotten math genius admired by Albert Einstein and largely forgotten today:

Noether (pronounced NER-ter) was born in Erlangen, Germany, 130 years ago this month. So it’s a fine time to counter the chronic neglect and celebrate the life and work of a brilliant theorist whose unshakable number love and irrationally robust sense of humor helped her overcome severe handicaps — first, being female in Germany at a time when most German universities didn’t accept female students or hire female professors, and then being a Jewish pacifist in the midst of the Nazis’ rise to power.

Through it all, Noether was a highly prolific mathematician, publishing groundbreaking papers, sometimes under a man’s name, in rarefied fields of abstract algebra and ring theory. And when she applied her equations to the universe around her, she discovered some of its basic rules, like how time and energy are related, and why it is, as the physicist Lee Smolin of the Perimeter Institute put it, “that riding a bicycle is safe.”

Ransom Stephens, a physicist and novelist who has lectured widely on Noether, said, “You can make a strong case that her theorem is the backbone on which all of modern physics is built.”

Interesting, even if you’re not a math nut. And it’s a shame she died too soon. RTWT.

(HT: Fred Lapides, whose blog, including its name, is definitely NSFW, but which often has fascinating links and info.)

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