Ada Lovelace Day — Remembering Emmy Noether

March 24th is Ada Lovelace day.

In order to celebrate it, I want to tell my story about a woman who inspired me — Emmy Noether. She was a Jewish woman in Germany, born in 1882. She was one of the first batches of female students admitted to co-educational studies in German universities. She became a “privatdozent” (the first level of professorship in German universities at that time) over objections such as “What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?”

Noether’s first theorem has, as some of its immediate corrolaries, the laws of conservation of energy, momentum and angular momentum. For many people other than Noether, this would have been their greatest achievement, and is certainly impressive — but she had more tricks up her sleeve.

When I hear Noether’s name, I associate it with ring theory. In an age where abstract algebra was not known, she made the case for it by proving some of the most important theories in ring theory, with immediate applications to number theory. Noetherian rings maintain that property when passing to the polynomial ring over a Noetherian ring — and that’s how I always view being Noetherian (a sense of “having principalness in your DNA”). Her contributions opened the door to the field of algebraic geometry, with later applications to number theory.

Although getting into the university required her to show she is a qualified mathematician “despite” being a woman, she was expelled from the German acadamic world for a bigger sin — that of being a Jew. In 1933, Emmy Noether left Nazi Germany and joined a college in the United States, part of a mass exodus of Jewish professors removed from their posts by Hitler.

Today, on Ada Lovelace day, I wish to express my admiration for Emmy Noether. Her story, among with the stories of many other famous Jewish mathematicians, has provided me inspiration when I went into mathematics.


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