It is important to highlight women who have paved the way in career representation for women. One if these women is Sophie Germain, a French mathematician and philosopher. She made many notable contributions to her field and overcame a lot of adversity.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Sophie Germain was born in Paris on April 1, 1776 and died on June 27, 1831 (Barrow-green, 1). Sophie was fascinated by math at a young age and would read a lot of her fathers’ material. Her father did not like her taking an interest in math as it was not considered acceptable for women to do so at this time, he ever tried to discourage her by taking away certain privileges (Singh, 12). She was able to get herself access to college lecture notes from the Ecole Polytechnique group which helped her to learn more (Barrow-green, 1).
When she began to obtain notes from the Ecole Polytechnique group, she did so under the male alias name, Monsieur Antoine-August Le Blanc. She would read notes and submit coursework under this name to avoid discrimination and ridicule for being a woman learning mathematics. Joseph-Louis Lagrange was a professor that was so impressed with the work Germain was submitting under her alias that he wanted to meet him, which means Germain had to reveal that she was in fact a woman. Upon meeting her, Lagrange was so impressed that he became a good teacher and mentor for her (Singh, 24-27).
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Sophie Germain made serious contributions to mathematics in her lifetime. She developed a vested interest in Fermat’s Last Theorem and made some important discoveries. She found a relationship that exists between prime numbers and equations that make them unsolvable. She consulted with other mathematicians on this, most notably, Carl Friedrich Gauss. During this time the French were invading Germany, Gauss’ home country. In order to help protect Gauss, Germain contacted a friend of hers who is a general and asked them to spare his life. They listened and took good care of him. He continued a close professional relationship with her for several years afterwards. (Singh, 28-42).
Germain also made notable findings in physics. She did research and eventually wrote a paper about elasticity which further influenced current research on the subject. She received an award from the Institut de France for her contribution to physics. She was in line to receive an honorary degree of sorts from a prestigious university but died before she could receive it due to cancer (Singh, 43-48).
Sophie Germain was a very notable scholar in the fields of both mathematics and physics. The most impressive thing about her is the fact that she over came such adversity. She used an alias knowing that women were not accepted in this profession, but when she had to reveal her identity to those in the field, she received a lot more support than she expected. She made great strides in gaining respect for women and proving that they can succeed in what is viewed in society as a typically male dominated profession. This alone makes her incredibly impressive. When that is coupled with the actual contributions she made to the field, it’s hard to deny she made incredible strides in her time on earth.
- Barrow-Green, June. “Sophie Germain.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2020, www.britannica.com/biography/Sophie-Germain.
- Singh, Simon. “Math's Hidden Woman.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 28 Oct. 1997, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/sophie-germain/.
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