SYMHC Classics: Emmy Noether, Mathematics Trailblazer
Everyone has experienced heartbreak. And that's why I started the Harper compiled cast. I'm Fallon, I host the heartbroken podcast where real people share real stories of. Heartbreak listen and subscribe at apple podcasts or on the iheartradio app or wherever you listen to podcasts. Hello everyone. We have another birthday edition of our Saturday classics today. It is EMMY nurture who was groundbreaking mathematician and was born March twenty third eighteen eighty two we hope you enjoy her mathematical world. Welcome to stuff you missed in history. Class from how stuff works dot com. Welcome to the podcast. I'm calling I'm Tracy will. And today, we're going to talk about a subject that was directly inspired by a listener mail, and we're going to talk in some detail about that listener mail at the end. But just know that it did. And we'll credit the person when we get to the end because it's pretty spectacular. We're going to talk about a really important lady mathematician and her the pronunciation of her name is a matter of some debate here at the office online true. So it's Emily nurture. You'll sometimes also hear it pronounced more like nuture. Well, and then when I looked up at four zero the the one German speaker, pronounces it more like not. Yeah. And I was like we can't say it that way that's not gonna work. So I think we decided we're going to hover right around nurture. That with all our possible respects to EMMY. And I hope we do not offend her ghost. Should it exists or German speakers speakers or people who love math and love her as a figure, so we're just going to jump right into talking about her. Emmy was born on me EMMY nurture on March twenty third eighteen eighty two in Orlando in Germany, and her father max ner was a mathematician. Her mother Ida Amalia Kaufmann was from a very well to do family. And after EMI was born maximum Ida had three sons, although two of them died when they were very young only Emmys brother Fritz survived to adulthood, and as a young child by most accounts. Emmy did not really stand out as a specially gifted. She's a bright child. But nobody was like this is the future of mathematics. She attended the state girls school inner London from eighteen eighty nine to eighteen ninety seven studying the basics of school curriculum. And she also took piano lessons. She learned to speak, French and English, and as she grew into her teen years, she loved dancing, and she was known as a very friendly clever girl when she was eighteen she was certified to teach both French and English and the series of exams that she had to go through to get the certification was pretty strenuous it took four days for her to do this. But instead of settling into a career teaching and girls schools, she decided that she would go to university and study mathematics, and this is a pretty big jump to suddenly make and we don't know why EMMY had this sudden shift in interests her life up to this point had seemed to follow a pretty standard course for a young woman in that period of time in Germany from an intellectual middle class family. You know, she would potentially get married, but if not she had this backup job as a teacher, and none of her personal writing from this time has survived to offer us any clues. Why she suddenly decided that what she really wanted was to pursue a mathematics career. We do that. It wasn't a completely foreign subject to her. Other Fritz was studying mathematics at the time. And her father also entertained other mathematicians in their home from time to time. So she had been around the subject of math her whole life. So while it does seem like quite a shift to go from teaching French and English studying math. It wasn't something that was completely new to her and just the same though, this desire to take university courses was incredibly ambitious so the schooling that girls received at this time in Germany was vastly different. From the way that the boys were educated the goal for girls school was to turn out proper young, ladies or trade workers, depending on the young woman's family background, and they just simply did not receive the kind of educational groundwork. That would make a transition to university. Studies a natural step, regardless of exactly how it was that she arrived at this decision. Emmy went to the university of our Langan to continue her education. But because she was a woman, and it was one thousand nine hundred she couldn't just enroll in classes. She had to get special permission from every instructor of every class, and then she couldn't actually enroll as a regular student. She could only audit the class she had to once again get special permission to actually take the exams from the instructors. Yes. So she really had to jump through every imaginable hoop just to get this math education that she had decided she wanted and in July nineteen three EMMY took the enrollment exam for the university at the Royal gymnasium in Nuernberg, and she passed basically proving at that point that she was even with male classmates despite having missed their educational background after the exam in the summer. And we started odd auditing advanced mathematics courses at the university of good gin. And that started in the winter of nineteen thousand three or four during these winter courses, she learned from teachers who would make incredible contributions in the world of mathematics Hermann Minkowski, for example, develop the geometry of numbers he can. Commuted to number theory any worked on relativity influencing his famous student, Albert, Einstein David Hilbert and other of her instructors set the foundations for functional analysis Felix Klein, influenced the development of mathematics is it related to representing the properties of space and spatial relations through geometry. So she was learning from serious heavy hitters, but in nineteen four she went back to the university of our long because the school had started actually accepting women as for real legitimate students on October twenty fourth nineteen Eighty-four. She was officially enrolled as student number four eighty six and she was the only woman student in a field of forty seven Emmys mentor during this time was Paul Gordon who was a friend of her father's as well. As an influential mathematician in his own, right? An EMMY known him since she was just a child he was very close with her family, and he is often described as sort of a second father figure to her. He was however in terms of personality a stark contrast. Next to her father, max air nurture was gentle and warm. He was passionate about his work. But he is described as sort of having this overlying sense of calm about him. Gordon, who is nicknamed the king of in various theory was unlike maximum or dramatic figure he was impulsive he was expressive and very unbridled ways he was given to wild distillation while he was talking which I can identify with EMI was the only doctorate student that that he ever mentor it and she was really devoted to him. She kept a photo of him on her wall for the rest of her life. And it's interesting when people describe Emmys behavior, she is sometimes described as having traits that are in some ways more similar to Paul Gordon than her father like she too was given to serious justification and kind of would make messes and be very dramatic and very excited, and so passionate that she would kind of lose yourself. But she. Received her PHD in mathematics from Erlangen after several years as Gordon's protege. And her thesis was a dissertation on algebraic in variance, which she successfully defended on December thirteenth of nineteen o seven choose given her degree, summa cum laude on July second of the following year. This timing is really significant because co Ed classes were not a thing in Germany until nineteen o eight the year after she successfully defended her thesis any woman who had gone through the education system prior to that had like EMMY had to get special permission was not granted equal student status. Yeah. Just for clarity. We mentioned that she returned to London because they were doing it. But in terms of Germany wide, women were still not considered equal until that year after she defended her thesis, and in one thousand nine hundred eight EMMY attended the international mathematical congress in Rome Italy, and she attended that along with her father shoes at this point, still young woman and relatively. Zone, despite sort of making this name for herself as an unusual figure being a woman in a very male dominated field. So it seems that during this particular conference she really kept a fairly low profile after miss nurture received her PHD, she continued her research work at their Langen. Although she wasn't paid for any of this work. She assisted her father and his research, and then she was invited in one thousand nine hundred eight to join the Toco mathematical in Italy, and then in nineteen o nine the German mathematical union Emmys, I sort of professional lecture was in nineteen oh nine at the Salzburg meeting of the German mathematical union, she lectured at the Vienna chapter of the group several years later in nineteen thirteen and not long after that. She also started guest lecturing for her father as a substitute and during this same period. Although as we said, we don't have writings from her. So we don't really know how this impacted her. But surely, it did Emmys mentor Paul Gordon died in nineteen twelve. So just as her career was. Taking off. So next up. We're going to talk about a significant move and Emmys life, but before that, let's have a word from one of our awesome sponsors keep the lights on here in our studio that sounds grand. Everyone has experienced heartbreak. I'm Fallon in on heartbroken podcast. You'll hear real stories from real men and women discussing their heartbreak we cover so many topics the central focus still being relationships, but occasional episodes feature other forms of heartbreak like the loss of a child or a partner or an abusive relationship. Hopefully, when you listen if you've gone through heartbreaker are going through heartbreak, you feel less alone. You can listen and subscribe at apple podcasts or on the iheartradio app or wherever you listen to podcasts. So after eight years of post PHD work at Erlangen, her former teachers, David Hilbert and Felix Klein asked her to come back to gutting in in nineteen fifteen and this was right after Albert Einstein had published his theory of general, relativity, inclined and Hilbert one in nurture to work with them on unraveling, the mathematics that were involved in Einstein's work and their had published several papers of her own by this time, and she had really exhibited some insightful approaches to mathematical concepts. So she was the perfect candidate to assist in Hilbert, inclines work. She went to good again. But this move turn out to be extremely controversial many faculty members objected to the idea of a woman on the teaching staff. If EMMY not couldn't be granted faculty status Hilbert and Klein wanted her to at least have what's called a prevented Sint, which is a position similar to a post, doc. It would have given EMMY at least an officially recognized post within the good again. Educational system would also grant her sufficient, title and permission to teach for nervous thesis to be accepted, and for her to be granted, this privilege Dodson the entire philosophy faculty had to vote on it and this umbrella of philosophy. Keep in mind included, not only philosophy but also history natural sciences, and mathematics, and it turned out that the mass people. There were pretty cool with them me. But the non mathematics people in the mix were really vehemently arguing against having a woman teach students. The arguments against nurturer where that giving her a prevents position mo- would mean that she was on track to be faculty. And what would the returning soldiers think when they came back to war to find that they're supposed to take classes from a woman? Yeah, they really framed it like what a slap in the face. That would be these young men who had gone to defend the the ideals of Germany, and they then come back and find a lady teacher. He and keep in mind. This wasn't even soldier saying this. This is kind of the weird trumped up argument that the non mathematics faculty was trying to put together to keep. I mean there her off of their cool kids club and her mentor in now colleague Hilbert's response was gentlemen. I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as a approved dotes in after all the Senate is not a bath house, and he meant like the educational Senate not there governments in it. And his argument, though, didn't sway the detractors. Emmy was not granted this title Hilbert, incline had to convince nurture to stay for obvious reasons, but she couldn't lecture under her own name. So they had to come up with a sneaky kind of work around the lectures were listed under Hilbert's name, but nurture was the one who actually delivered them. Yes, she worked under his name for quite. Time in nineteen eighteen however should has been doing this sort of sneaky work around plan for several years at this point, she had developed at through her work with Hilbert and Klein nurtures theorem which deals with the relation between what are known as the symmetry of a physical system and its conservation laws. So among the revelations of this theorem is the linkage between time and energy directly relating to the idea of conservation of energy. So that in case, you do not remember is that energy can neither be created nor destroyed but merely changes form, and this is incredibly significant stuff. I mean, this is really a huge part of physics as we know it, right? It's an incredibly important concept at the medical physics and her peers at the time recognized its significance so much so that the following year. I mean, not was finally officially racking recognized doesn't academic lecture with the private dotes in title that we'd been talking about for. So long. She had had to lecture without see no longer had to lecture under a male mentors name, and this was obviously incredibly significant, but it's not maybe the huge win that we would all be hoping for because just to be clear at this point. Emmy nurture was in her thirties. She had published numerous influential and important papers. And she was working with the best mathematicians at the time as a respected peer of theirs on the mathematics of relativity. And despite all of that she had up to this official. You know, kind of track to be an ineffectual ty- position. She had zero stability or safety in her Currier. But even though she now had a title that made it okay for her to lecture as herself her position did not actually come with any pay. She would not get any pay a lecture until nineteen twenty three four years after she was made a private dotes in. Yeah. And we don't know exactly where the money was coming that supported her. This is one of those. Kind of wiggly fuzzy points presumably she was getting some from like a family fund and possibly sort of private grants from other mathematicians, but we don't really new in nineteen twenty. She collaborated with colleague Verner schmead layer to write concerning modulation in non-communicative fields, particularly in differential and difference. Terms in this publication, really establish like without question nurture as a mathematician at the very top of her field while the start of World War One kept her from travelling to speak at gatherings of mathematicians starting in nineteen twenty. She was often on the road lecturing throughout Germany, and from nineteen twenty to nineteen twenty six nurtures work focused on what's called, the general theory of ideals. No more commonly in modern times as commutative algebra her work during this time United a lot of different mathematical concepts, but this was in terms of her personal life a period of ups and downs for EMI in nineteen twenty one for example, her father. Died. So at this point she was left without both of her father figure mentors in mathematics. And in the middle of all that work as we said, she was given a lectureship specifically algebra in nineteen Twenty-three. Just two years later. He's first student to complete a doctorate under her mentorship. Received her PHD EMMY had mentored another woman, Greta Herman through her thesis process and Herman finished her doctorate in February nineteen twenty five around nineteen twenty four while she was working with Greta Herman, and and lecturing and doing her research nurture was at the center of the sort of interesting walking and talking phenomenon on campus students and scholars alike would take long walks with EMI around the school grounds talking about what else mathematics, and meth theory, and this informal group, which came to be known as nurtures boys, included, Russian scholar. Pablo Alexandrov who was visiting professor from the university of Moscow knitter. And Alexandra became friends, and she was eventually invited to Moscow as a guest lecturer in the nineteen twenty eight twenty nine academe ick year. This was not the only international recognitions. She was receiving during this time though. She also delivered a paper at the international mathematical congress in bologna Italy that was in nineteen twenty eight and then a few years later in one thousand nine hundred eighty two she addressed the same group in Zurich. So in nineteen twenty-seven, nurtures, focus shifted almost exclusively to non-communicative algebra's, and these are eligible as where the order in which the numbers are multiplied affects the outcome and nervous work in this area yielded, a theory that enabled a conceptual unification of all of them. And during her work in this phase of her career, she collaborated with helmet Haas, and Richard brower and published papers, hyper complex, number systems in their representation in nineteen twenty nine in non commutative algebra in nineteen thirty three from nineteen thirty to nineteen thirty three see also. So worked as an editor on the German mathematical annual throughout all of her research, writing and editing. She was also still teaching regularly. But even so she was still employed at a level far below what her colleagues thought she deserves. Yeah. Even as male mathematicians were rising up through the ranks in the gutten gutting in educational system at a rate that really easily outpaced ME they were so hugely influenced by her work that many of them tried to point out how wrong this was and tried to petition for an improved title on her behalf it generally came to not with the greater university system. But in terms of the mathematics world, she was regarded not just as a peer. But as a leader at this point nineteen thirty three would prove to be a pivotal year for nurture, and we're going to talk about it after we paused chat about one of our awesome sponsors who keep our show billing. He listeners I would like to tell you about a new podcast called before breakfast. If you ever feel like you just wish you had a twenty fifth hour in the day. You can't quite do that. 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Listen and subscribe on apple podcasts or on iheartradio app or wherever you listen to podcasts. Nineteen thirty three Germany changed obviously pretty significantly when the Nazi party came into power. Emmy nurture who was Jewish lost her job as did many of her colleagues, the Nazi party had actually passed a number of laws that were intended to keep Jews out of civil service jobs and that included epidemics, four awhile, and may gave informal lectures at her home, and she certainly had students who were eager to continue learning from her. She was apparently not even bothered when a student or two showed up in their Nazi uniform. She just wanted to talk about math. Meanwhile, her friend, Pavel Alexandrov was working to get the university of Moscow to appoint her to a position in his efforts were really passionate, but they were getting slow response. And finally just had to make a decision about her future as tensions mounted in Germany. She left Germany in October nineteen thirty three to move to the United States. She'd been offered. One year guess professor spot at Bryn Mawr college unbeknownst to nurture when she accepted the offer. The school was also setting up a graduate fellowship in her name for the academic year. She would be teaching there. She also lectured and worked on her math research in Princeton, New Jersey at the institute for advanced study, and while interest in her lectures was initially slow to catch on eventually EMMY did get a following of students, and she sort of found this Mirror Group to the nurture boys of gutting in. But this group was called the nursery girls, and they would go on hikes on Saturdays all the while just as she had in Germany discussing mathematical concepts her one year invitation to teach at Ren mar was extended the following academic year of nineteen thirty four thirty five. But before it started she went back to Germany to visit her brother Fritz and his family before they moved to Siberia for a teaching position. They're like EMMY Fritz lost his job at the institute of technology under the Nazi government. Emmy also visited her old camp. And her friends at gutting in, but she soon headed back to Pennsylvania for another year at Bryn Mawr and during her second year there she mentored her first American PHD candidates. A young woman named Ruth Helfer the life of EMMY Notre ends rather abruptly in the spring of nineteen thirty five she went into the hospital to have an ovarian cyst removed, and while she seemed to be recovering. Well, initially. She died quite suddenly on April fourteenth four days after her surgery. Just a few weeks later on may third of nineteen thirty five the New York Times ran a letter that was written by Albert Einstein about EMMY Notre, and he wrote within the past few days, a distinguished mathematician. Professor, I mean, no two formerly connected with the university of Guten and for the past two years at Bryn Mawr college died in her fifty third year in the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians fro Noto was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods, which has have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present day younger generation of mathematicians. And now while we have reached the point in EMMY story where she has departed this earthly plane, there's a little bit more to talk about in terms of her politics. And the reason that we're putting the this at the end is because the primary information we have about it isn't from things that came up in her actual lifetime Oregon her writings, which we don't have it stuff that came up in eulogies memorials from colleagues after her death, specifically two of them in nineteen nineteen to join the independent social Democrats group in Gooding in and to some the group was considered an extremely radical Bolshevik group. It was a splinter group that broke away from the social Democratic Party in nineteen fourteen as a centrist group between the social Democratic Party and the communist party of Germany, but to have her close, friends and fellow mathematicians interpret her politics very differently when they spoke about her life. I Hermann Weil Weil worked in analysis number. Theory foundational mathematics and quantum mechanics among other areas, and he met Notre in gutting in in nineteen thirteen and they remained quite close throughout the rest of Emmy's life. And while spoke of Emmy's political stance. It was very much in the vein that she was a pacifist. And she definitely was we know that with great hopes for Germany's future, and that really she saw the independent social Democrats as the next stage of the social Democrats, not as a radical shift, but as a graduate, we'll have Aleutian, and he also wrote an EMMY that quote without being actually in party life, she participated intensely in the discussion of the social and political problems of the day on the other hand. Pablo Alexandra characterized EMMY is very pro Soviet. He said that quote, she always had a lively interest in politics and hated war and chauvinism in all its forms, and with her whole being her sympathies were always unwaveringly with the Soviet Union. So it seems based on the fact that Alexsandr off was working. To get EMMY a position in Moscow in nineteen thirty three that she was comfortable with the idea of living in the Soviet Union and the Bolshevik revolution took place while she was working in academia. So it's really unlikely that she was blind or ignorant to the political events that were playing out around her. But since both of these men likely saw Emmys political stance through their own lenses in the way, they wished to see her since we do not have any of her own writing on the subject to reference, we really don't know where she truly stood what's really indisputable is that I mean nurture was a major figure in mathematics both in her time. And today as many others have built upon her work, and she seems simply unflappable in the face of the difficulties she faced as she made a name for herself in a field that had very few women in it. And so I wanted to end with a quote from her friend Pavel Alexandrov because it describes EMMY in such a way that I think anybody would want to know her. He says quote, her great sense of humor which made social gatherings and personal. Context with her so pleasant enabled her to counter the injustices in absurdities that beset her academic career easily and without anger in such circumstances instead of being offended. She would simply laugh, but she was very offended, indeed and protested sharply. When even the smallest injustice was directed at one of her students. Oh, I loved that quote. There's really no substantiation in any way. But there are it will come up as theory sometimes that she was connected romantically to either wile or Sandra. Although we don't know, and none of them none of their letters ever hinted any of that. So we just have no idea, but we do she was very close with both of those men. So I love that that sort of description of her. And now, we'll get to the listener mail at inspired this whole thing. And this is from our listener Mark who is amazing, and he writes, hi, Holly, and Tracy. I enjoy listening to your podcast, and my thought you might like a laser engraving of one of my favorite mathematicians me nurture. I did the grieving on one millimeter aircraft plywood hoping that would make it a little more unique. I listen to your podcast with them on the road or in the lab guitar lab. Really keep up the great work and Mark us this absolutely beautiful in grieving of EMMY. And I just was so struck by that we had to do an episode. Yeah, we're going to post picture of it. It's great. It's so we've talked about how I don't normally work in the same office is Holly anymore. And so highly will send me pictures of the things they come into the office in are amazing. And that was one where I kept zooming in on my phone, usually text like, whoa. What's happening? It's really beautiful. I love it. Mark. Thank you so much that was so thoughtful and cool, and I appreciate that. You took time to make us a really fabulous gift. We're. Very very lucky. Thank you so much for joining us on this Saturday. If you have heard an Email address or Facebook, you are L or something similar over. The course of today's episode since it is from the archive that might be out of date. Now, you can Email us at history podcast at how stuff works dot com. And you can find us all over social media at missed in history. And you can subscribe to our show on apple podcast, Google podcasts the iheartradio app and wherever else. He listening to podcasts. For more on this and other topics. Visit how stuff works dot com. Listeners did you ever want an extra hour in your day? Well, you can't exactly change time. But if you listen to before breakfast host, Laura Vander Cam can help you get a little more out of each and every day, Laura has studied thousands of schedules over the last ten years, and she really likes seeing how people combine their careers and personal lives and make the most out of all of it with her show. You'll learn things like how to make better small talk or why planning your weekend on Friday is better than just winging it so wake up with before breakfast every weekday morning just like the first Cup of coffee. It's gonna help you feel like you can take on the world listening. Subscribe at apple podcasts and the iheartradio app or wherever it is. You listen to podcasts.