Sunday, June 15, 2014

Weekly 6: Marie-Sophie Germain

     For my weekly 6 assignment, I will give a biography on Marie-Sophie Germain, along with some of my thoughts. Sophie was born on April 1, 1776 in Paris, France. Sophie's parent's house was actually a meeting place for those interested in liberal reforms. That would be interesting to have an upbringing like; it probably influenced Sophie greatly as a kid. In her teen years, Sophie was able to teach herself Latin and Greek. She also read Newton and Euler at night while under blankets as her parents were sleeping. They took away her fire, her light and her clothes in an attempt to get her away from books. Wow, if my parents did that, I probably would never have even pursued math. Anyways, her parents did lessen their opposition to her studying the sciences. What I found interesting was that her father actually supported her financially throughout her life, even though she never really had a well paying job. So maybe we (as in me) shouldn't be so quick to judge her parents. 
     At the end of some of Lagrange's (we should all know who he is) lecture course on analysis, using the pseudonym M. LeBlanc, Sophie submitted a paper that even made Lagrange look for its author. When Lagrange found out Sophie was a woman, he still respected her work and would eventually become her sponsor and mathematical counselor. Sophie collaborated with many mathematicians, but the most notable is Karl Friedrich Gauss. Between 1804 and 1809, she wrote several letters to him, again taking M. LeBlanc as her name. Gauss gave her tons of praise for her number theory, which is amazing because he was a highly intelligent schmuck. When Gauss did find out about her true identity he gave her even more praise, for learning science even with society's harsh gender roles at that time. One of Germain's most famous papers was her work on Fermat's last theorem in where she broke new ground and used divisibility as an attempt to prove Fermat's Last theorem. 
     Then came the Institut de France prize competition which brought about the following challenge:
formulate a mathematical theory of elastic surfaces and indicate just how it agrees with empirical evidence.
Most mathematicians didn't even try to solve the problem. But, Germain spent the next decade attempting to derive a theory of elasticity, collaborating with some of the most famous mathematicians and physicists of her time. Sadly, she did not win this time. Her hypothesis was not formed from the principles of physics, nor did she have any training in analysis or calculus (which was important in solving the problem). Finally, Germain's third attempt was deemed worthy of the prize: one kilogram of gold. Though, to public disappointment, she did not receive the prize. She thought the Judges did not fully appreciate her work, which probably was true. I bet if a man submitted her work, he would have one the prize, so unfair. In an attempt to extend her research, Sophie submitted a paper in 1825 to a commission of the Institut de France, whose members included Poisson, Gaspard de Prony, and Laplace. Her work suffered from a number of deficiencies (which probably could have been avoided if she had the proper training, which was inaccessible to her), but rather than reporting them to the author, the commission ignored the paper. It was recovered from de Prony's papers and published in 1880. Wow that just makes me mad that they just ignored her. It sounds like her research was pretty significant since de Pony's kept it. Sadly, Germain got breast cancer in 1829, but still she completed papers on number theory and on the curvature of surfaces (1831). Even on her death certificate in 1831, she was not even listed as a mathematician or scientist, bullcrap.
    Sophie Germain was a very strong person. She never caught a break and her work was insulted left and right. I think that for any class, or book, that discusses woman's rights and the history overall of woman, Germain's name should be mentioned. From woman who campaigned for their rights, who voiced their opinion even in the face of adversity, Germain is different. Back then, society thought of woman as lesser than men, but Germain proved she was not lesser. She PROVED she was intelligent, brave, and had so much to offer. She was a shining example of the hardships woman had to go through, but prevailing through them. I know way more about her than that de Prony guy; I've never even heard of him (hahahaha). If she was actually given some proper training, and had a bit more support, who knows what more she could have done. As a mathematician, scientist, woman, or anyone really, Sophie Germain is truly someone to admire. 


Marie-Sophie Germain, (JOC/EFR, October 1998 School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of          St. Andrews, Scotland),

1 comment:

  1. Nice coverage. I agree with your admiration of SG. If you were to add anything, you could mention what was the number theory work Gauss admired so much. 5C's +