Woman of the Week

Sophie Germain (by Hattie Bates)

Sophie Germain was a French mathematician best known for her work on Elasticity Theory and Fermat’s Last Theorem.

Though from an educated family, because she was a woman she was barred from studying maths at university, let alone practicing it as a career, and so began her studies using her fathers books on the subject as a teenager. When the École Polytechnique opened, Germain was able to obtain the lecture notes whilst not fully attending the courses and hence develop her education further. Prior to this, a student named Monsieur LeBlanc had unbeknownst to the professors dropped out of the college, under who’s name Germain corresponded with Gauss, a professor and famous mathematician. Gauss was impressed with her work, and remarked upon discovering that she was, in fact, a woman;

“How can I describe my astonishment and admiration on seeing my esteemed correspondent M leBlanc metamorphosed into this celebrated person. . . when a woman, because of her sex, our customs and prejudices, encounters infinitely more obstacles than men in familiarising herself with [number theory’s] knotty problems, yet overcomes these fetters and penetrates that which is most hidden, she doubtless has the most noble courage, extraordinary talent, and superior genius.”

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