March 8, 2015 is International Women’s Day. All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. In that spirit, Zeno is pleased to highlight these inspiring women mathematicians and how their passion for math was shaped during the early learning years.
The first known woman mathematician, Hyaptia, lived in Alexandria, Egypt. She was a mathematician, philosopher and astronomer. Hyaptia’s early learning was inspired by her father, Theon. With his help, Hyaptia developed a passion for finding answers to the unknown.
Hypatia was known for her work on the ideas of conic sections. She edited the work On the Conics of Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This work was the conceptual foundation behind the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. Hyaptia made the concepts easier to understand, because of which the work lasted many centuries. Hypatia was the first woman to have a lasting impact on early thought in mathematics.
Ada Lovelace is often considered to be the first computer programmer.
Ada’s mother was a strong influence in her early childhood. She found tutors to teach Ada challenging math and science, which were not typical for women at that time. From early on, Ada showed a talent for numbers and language. Around the age of 17, Ada met Charles Babbage, a mathematician, inventor and the “Father of Computers”. Babbage served as her mentor and with his guidance, she began studying advanced mathematics.
While working with Babbage, Ada was asked to translate his article on analytical engine from French to English. Ada not only translated but also added her own forward thinking ideas to describe “how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers”. For this contribution, Ada is considered to be the first computer programmer.
The Fields Medal is the highest honor in the field of Mathematics. In 2014, Maryam Mirzhakhani became the first woman to be awarded the Fields Medal for her original and sophisticated contributions in the field of dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces.
In her early childhood, Mirzakhani loved reading and would tell herself stories about the adventures of a remarkable girl who would travel the world and perform incredible feats. She hoped to become a writer one day. She discovered her love of math in middle school, thanks to a supportive teacher. In high school, she became the first girl to win the gold medal two years in a row at Iran’s International Math Olympiad team. The challenge of competitions strengthened her love of mathematics. Her early love of writing and imagination evolved, now she thinks of hyperbolic surfaces, moduli spaces and dynamical systems as characters in a novel.
These women have inspired and will continue to inspire generations of young girls to excel in mathematics. Share with us, who is your favorite woman mathematician?
Image sources: Wikipedia.org, Popsci.com