Today, we meet a gentle mathematical powerhouse.
The University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.

Emmy Noether could hardly
have been anything but a mathematician. She was
born in 1882 to a distinguished mathematics
professor at Germany's University of Erlangen. He
looked after the education of Emmy and her brother
Fritz with great care and pride. But Emmy
outreached expectation -- she made mathematical
history.

She finished her Ph.D. at Erlangen when she was 25.
Some called her work awe-inspiring, but Lynn Osen
tells us that Noether later dismissed it as a
"jungle of formulas." She had her sights on bigger
game. She continued studying and living at home.
Then she moved to Göttingen, where she could
work with Hilbert and Weyl on the algebra of
relativity theory. But Göttingen had no
faculty posts for women. Hilbert fought for her.
"After all," he said angrily, "the [faculty] is not
a bath house!" She was finally put on an irregular
appointment at a modest salary in 1922 -- when she
was 40.

Two years earlier, she'd written a paper that
helped set the very foundations of modern abstract
algebra. By the time Göttingen grudgingly put
her on the payroll, there was no doubt in anyone's
mind that she was a remarkable mathematician. By
the time the Nazis came to power, Noether was far
and away the leading light at that great
university.

Emmy Noether was a gentle, low-key lady -- on fire
only with the flights of her imagination. But she
was Jewish, and she held a quietly stated, but
deeply felt, belief in pacifism. Her days in
Germany were clearly numbered.

Her brother Fritz fled to a research institute in
Siberia, and in 1933 she made it to Bryn Mawr
University in the United States. For two years she
taught at both Bryn Mawr and the Princeton
Institute for Advanced Studies. Then, in 1935, she
underwent an operation, seemed to be recovering
nicely, and suddenly died. Her New York
Times obituary included this by Einstein:

*In the realm of algebra ... which the most
gifted mathematicians have [studied] for centuries,
she discovered methods ... of enormous importance
...*

Hermann Weyl had more personal things to
say of her,
*If we at Göttingen ... often referred to
her as Der Noether (using the masculine article,
der) it was ... done with a respectful recognition
of her power as a creative thinker who seemed to
have broken through the barrier of sex. ... She was
a great mathematician, the greatest.*

But in the end, Emmy Noether's human
decency transcended even her own mathematical
greatness. We find something you never see in
academic honors:
*She was warm, Weyl said, like a loaf of
bread.*

I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds
work.

(Theme music)