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Sophie Germain - “The Princess Of Mathematics”

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Sophie Germain also known as “the princess” of mathematics. She was born in Paris France on April 1st, 1776. Her real name is Marie-Sophie Germain and later went by the pseudonym “M Le Blanc”. She was described as a shy child and very withdrawn from her family. Her parents’ names were Ambrose-Francois Germain and Marie-Madeline Germain. She was the middle child of two sisters. Her father was a Parisian silk man whose home library was one of the main reasons Germain went on to study elasticity and the number theory. Due to the French Revolution she began to study things such as French and Math and took it upon herself to teach herself the information. She was not able to attend school, but by teaching herself she learned the fundamentals of mathematics. Post French Revolution, the atmosphere at that time is Paris was not livable for anyone at that time.

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France was in chaos and during 1783-1784. The Laki Volcano erupted, and sulfur dioxide seeped into the atmosphere. For several years the Northern Hemisphere dealt with various amounts of hazardous weather. During this time her father’s library became her haven. It had various books from all subjects and languages. Her first book was Volume 1 of Jean-Étienne Mentula’s History of Mathematics. From this book, she taught herself fractions, long divisions and many other portions of mathematics. She was intrigued by the story of Archimedes who was an astronomer, inventor, physicist, and mathematician. She loved everything about his life and this is where she knew that she wanted to study mathematics. Without even knowing Marie-Sophie Germain was about to embark on being one of the people who contributed to many theories and information we utilize today.

Being a young woman entering a field dominated by men Germain knew she was going to face challenges. It was not socially acceptable if her father was so intelligent and his daughters were not. Though they had to be educated their level of education did have a stop barrier. If one belonged to a wealthy family, a young lady should be able to have an intellectual conversation, but they were to not act as if they knew more than a man. This is where she recognized she had to break that barrier.Her parents began to become upset with her obsessions of mathematics. They did not like that most her down time involved her reading a book or attempting to conduct some type of research. Because of her obsessions Germain was not allowed to have fire for her room. Her parents deprived her of candles which she used as light to read at night. Sophie Germain fought hard to learn, and this is the reason why had an impact on mathematics.

The name M. Le Blanc (pseudonym she used) was born in 1974 when she decided to pursue classes at the local school École Polytechnique which is in Palaiseau, France. It was altered into a military school by Napoleon in 1804. In that school she received lecture notes from a mathematician who she became great friends with. Joseph-Louis Lagrange became one of the people who pushed her to become a hard-working mathematician. He was one of her first mentors who did not judge her based on her gender. Germain’s interests were sparked after she read a book called Theorie des Nombres. This book was by a soon to be good friend Adrien-Marie Legendre. They went on to work together after she sent her ideas on the number theory and elasticity. Her work was later published in Adrien-Marie Legendre’s second edition of his book. She was introduced to another soon to be close friend Carl Fredrick Gauss.

Guass was a Germain mathematician who was responsible for many contributions to mathematics such as the number theory, geometry, probability theory, geodesy, planetary astronomy, the theory of functions, and potential theory (including electromagnetism). Germain and Gauss began to build a relationship in 1804 when they began doing research together. She worked under her alias again due to the fact women still not being accepted into society. In 1809 she began to branch out and produce more of her work. The French Academy of Sciences presented a prize based on research on vibrating plates. This was conducted by Ernst F. Chladni a physicist from Germany. Two years later she decided to submit a memoir but did not win. She did it again in 1813 and lost again, but in 1816 she submitted another memoir and won. The winning memoir dealt with vibrations on surfaces and was published in 1821.

Still 1820 she was shunned by the research community because of her gender but continued to conduct research. Due to her lack of resources and the fact that the community shunned her, Germain missed out on the latest information that was founded surrounding elasticity. After winning the prize from the French Academy of Sciences, Sophie Germain maintained an interest in the number theory. This interest peaked after she read Theorie des Nombres. She also read Disquisitiones Arithmeticae which caused her to reach out to Gauss. It is believed that her theories were invalid and that he never gave any feedback to the theories. She then turned her attention to Fermat’s Last Theorem in 1819. This theory states that “xn + yn = zn has no solution if n is a integer great than 2 and x,y, and z are nonzero integers”. In 1825, Germain was able to show a circumstance where “x,y,z, and n are all prime and that n is a prime number less than 100”. The information Germain proved was not published, but it was included in Legendre’s Théorie Des Nombre the second edition. Proving this was a pivotal moment in her career, the theory she worked hard to prove soon became the Germain Theorem. The information she proved at one point was the only information surround the theory until Ernst Kummer present his own research.

Sophie German was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1829. She later died in 1831, she was 55 years old. Before her death she was scheduled to receive an honorary doctor’s degree from the University of Gottingen. She was receiving this degree because of her connection with Gauss and this would be their first meeting. Germain faced a lot of adversity while trying to become someone to be remembered when math is being talked about.

References:

  1. Germain. (n.d). Retrived September 28th, 2018 from http://biography.yourdictionary.com/sophie-germain
  2. Barrow-Green, J. (2018). Sophie Germain | French mathematician. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sophie-Germain [Accessed 28 Sepy. 2018].
  3. “Sophie Germain.” Science and Its Times: Understanding the Social Significance of Scientific Discovery. . Retrieved September 29, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/sophie-germain
  4. Swift, A. (2016). Sophie Germain. [online] Biographies of Women In Mathematics. Available at: https://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/germain.htm [Accessed 28 Sep. 2018].
  5. Germain. [online] Math.wichita.edu. Available at: http://www.math.wichita.edu/history/women/germain.html [Accessed 28 September. 2018].

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