Reading about Math Heroes (page 2)
What does it mean to be a hero? Heroes are men and women who perform great feats, who make awesome discoveries and sacrifices, who go "above and beyond the call of duty." Sometimes heroes are super-people, able "to leap tall buildings in a single bound," but often heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things.
In mathematics, heroes include the giants of the past, such as Euclid, Pythagoras, and Sir Isaac Newton whose work still affects mathematics learning today. But some of the most inspiring stories are about the giants of the present. We have all heard of Einstein's theory of relativity and his E = mc2, but how many realize that he had trouble as a boy with basic mathematics? Reading about Einstein's early struggles and later triumphs can inspire youngsters who dislike mathematics because they think they're not good at it to dig in and try again.
Some math heroes, such as Einstein, make good models for math learning; others, such as Emmy Noether, are simply good models for living.
Fighting Discrimination: A Woman in Mathematics
Emmy Noether was born in 1882 in Germany. It was a good time and place to be born if you liked mathematics. Over the next few decades, Germany would see some giant steps taken by some of the giants in the field of mathematics.
But Emmy Noether had a special problem. She was brilliant. She loved mathematics, but she was a woman.
In Germany in 1900, women could take the teachers' examinations and teach at girls' schools, yet they could not enroll in the universities as regular students. They could attend classes, but they could not take the exams or receive a degree.
So what did Emmy Noether do? Did she leave the university and settle for teaching English and French in a girls' school. No, she attended classes and studied on her own. Four years later, when the laws changed, she was ready to do graduate work in mathematics at the University of Erlangen.
Between 1904 and 1919, Emmy Noether—soon Dr. Emmy Noether—did world-class work in mathematics. She published articles, and she taught at the university.
Still, she was not treated fairly. Because she was a woman, she could not take the special examination for university teachers. Because she hadn't taken the examination, she couldn't get paid for her teaching. After World War I, when the laws in Germany became more liberal, she was given the unofficial title of associate professor at Gottingen. That was one of the most famous universities, not only in Germany but also in the world. But she still wasn't paid for her work.
Dr. Noether may have become discouraged. She may have been tempted to quit the university and work in the girls' school where she could be given a salary. We don't know.
However, we do know that she kept on working as a mathematician and teaching at the university. She taught students, many of them men, who became leaders in mathematics. She wrote papers that made her famous.
In 1932, Dr. Noether won a prize for her work and became the first woman in history to address the International Congress of Mathematics. The next year, Hitler came to power, and because she was Jewish, she was fired from the university. The German universities that had held her back because she was a woman now rejected her because of her race and religion.
Emmy Noether sought refuge in the United States where she died in 1935. The story of her life and accomplishments remains a tribute to a courageous woman's determination and ability.
© ______ 2001, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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