June 19, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

March is Women’s History month, so at I, Science we are highlighting some of the incredible women who have contributed to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and maths - who have often been overlooked in our textbooks.
Emmy Noether
Image Source: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Emmy Noether was a prominent German mathematician, most famous for discovering Noether’s theorem – which proved instrumental in helping formulate Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity.  

Born to a wealthy family in Bavaria, 1888, Noether originally studied arithmetic, languages, domestic skills and piano and qualified to become an English and French teacher. Rejecting this, she instead opted to take University Studies, needing special permission to take the entrance exam. She earned her PhD in 1908. She then joined mathematicians David Hilbert and Felix Klein who were working on the mathematical proof for Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. Noether was able to prove that conservation laws were symmetrical – meaning that conservation of energy and momentum stay the same in any area of the universe. Her maths also predicted the existence of the Higg’s Boson.  

Despite her contributions and Einstein calling her “the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”, she was only allowed to lecture as an “assistant” under a male colleague’s name; and did not even earn a salary until age 35 and in 1933, she was forced to leave her position, escaping Nazi Germany due to her Jewish heritage.