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Remember the Ladies: Sophie Germain


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Marie-Sophie Germain (1 April 1776 – 27 June 1831) was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Despite initial opposition from her parents and difficulties presented by society, she gained education from books in her father’s library including ones by Leonhard Euler and from correspondence with famous mathematicians such as Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss. One of the pioneers of elasticity theory, she won the grand prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences for her essay on the subject. Her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem provided a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject for hundreds of years after. Because of prejudice against her sex, she was unable to make a career out of mathematics, but she worked independently throughout her life.

In recognition of her contribution towards advancement of mathematics, an honorary degree was also conferred upon her by the University of Göttingen six years after her death. At the centenary of her life, a street and a girls’ school were named after her. The Academy of Sciences established The Sophie Germain Prize in her honor.

…Germain’s most famous correspondence was with Gauss. She had developed a thorough understanding of the methods presented in his 1801 Disquisitiones Arithmeticae. Between 1804 and 1809 she wrote a dozen letters to him, initially adopting again the pseudonym “M. LeBlanc” because she feared being ignored because she was a woman. During their correspondence, Gauss gave her number theory proofs high praise, an evaluation he repeated in letters to his colleagues. Germain’s true identity was revealed to Gauss only after the 1806 French occupation of his hometown of Braunschweig. Recalling Archimedes’ fate and fearing for Gauss’s safety, she contacted a French commander who was a friend of her family. When Gauss learnt that the intervention was due to Germain, who was also “M. LeBlanc”, he gave her even more praise.

Among her work done during this period is work on Fermat’s Last Theorem and a theorem which has become known as Germain’s Theorem. This was to remain the most important result related to Fermat’s Last Theorem from 1738 until the contributions of Kummer in 1840.(groups.dc)

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