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Chances are you’ve heard of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. You may even know about Alan Turing. Yet the achievements of female mathematicians are less well-known, even in the 21st century.

 

Unfortunately, there is a stereotype that still prevails today that maths is a male subject and that girls are no good at it.

 

Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The contribution of female mathematicians has been both ground-breaking and world-altering, including laying the groundwork for the earliest computers, and advancing space flight. So, we’ve put together a list of 5 inspirational female mathematicians who really broke the mould. We hope you can use their incredible example to show your children that maths is all about the journey of discovery, not someone’s gender.

 

  1. Mary Cartwright (1900-1998)

Mary Cartwright’s career included several many noteworthy firsts: She was the first woman to receive the Sylvester Medal for mathematical research and the first to serve as president of the London Mathematical Society (1961–62).

When she entered Oxford university to study mathematics in 1919, she was one of only 5 women studying the subject. Her initial scores were poor, and she contemplated giving up maths altogether. Fortunately, Mary chose to persevere, and later went on to lecture at Cambridge University, before earning her doctorate in philosophy. She published more than 100 research papers and her thesis was published in the Quarterly Journal of Mathematics. One of her theorems – known as Cartwright’s Theorem – is still frequently applied in signal processing. She also contributed to the study of chaos theory. The Queen recognised Mary’s accomplishments in the 1969 Queen’s Honours list, and she became Dame Mary Cartwright.

 

  1. Maryam Mirzakhani (1977–2017)

At first, Maryam Mirzakhani dreamt of being a writer. In fact, her passion for maths didn’t bloom until her final year of high school. Once ignited though, Maryam’s journey with maths burned brightly. In 2014 she became the first woman (and the first Iranian) to receive the prestigious Fields Medal, awarded for her work on hyperbolic geometry, and went on to teach maths at Stanford University. Curtis McMullen – her doctoral advisor at Harvard – described Maryam as having “a fearless ambition when it comes to mathematics.”

  1. Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

Katherine Johnson faced huge challenges in her desire to learn maths. She lived White sulphur springs, West Virginia. However, the town did not offer schooling for black students past eighth grade. So, her father moved Katherine and her mother to another town 120 miles away where Katherine could attend school.

It was a wise decision. Katherine was prodigal at maths and graduated by the age of 14. She then attended West Virginia State College, where several professors recognized her unusual ability and provided valuable mentorship. Katherine graduated summa cum laude at the age of 18. After teaching for a spell, she went to work for NASA, where her knowledge of analytic geometry resulted in her assignment to the all-male flight research team. It was during this time that Katherine helped calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s first trip into space. In fact, her work became so valuable to the programme that she remained part of the research team after Shepherd’s trip, working at Langley Research Centre from until 1986.

Katherine’s work is celebrated in the film Hidden Figures, and she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

  1. Mary Jackson (1921-2005)

Mary grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she graduated from high school with honours, and received a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical science from the Hampton Institute. She was hired as a research mathematician at the NASA campus in Langley where she specialised in aerodynamics and was eventually promoted to aerospace engineer.

Mary later worked with the flight engineers at NASA and was repeatedly promoted over her 30-year career. However, she ultimately left NASA to focus her energy on helping women and minorities advance their careers. Like Katherine Johnson, Mary’s work is featured in the film Hidden Figures.

  1. Julia Robinson (1919-1985)

Julia’s early education was plagued periods of ill- health, including several bouts rheumatic fever that affected her throughout her life. Upon returning to school in the ninth grade, Julia developed an interest in maths, and graduated high school with honours in both maths and science. She eventually attended Berkeley, where she met her future husband – assistant professor Raphael Robinson.

The long-term effects of rheumatic fever meant that Julia could not have children. Upon learning this news, she renewed her devotion to maths and received her doctorate in 1948. In the same year, year she began working on David Hilbert’s Tenth Problem, a mathematical conundrum which occupied her for decades. Her invaluable contribution toward solving the problem is commemorated in a documentary entitled “Julia Robinson and Hilbert’s Tenth Problem.” In 1975 Robinson was the first amongst female mathematicians to be elected to the National Academy of Sciences. She also became the first woman president of the American Mathematical Society.

George Alexander Tuition is a specialist maths and science tuition agency based in Central London. We support children aged 11-18 with a variety of termly tuition packages and exam coaching from 11+ to A-Level. We also offer bespoke packages to support children who are learning at home. To find out more, contact us on info@gatuition.com. You can also follow our social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook, and check out our handy maths tutorials on our YouTube channel.

 

 

Liz

Liz

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