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Frank: You know she proved a famous theorem (the Cauchy-Kovalaskaya Theorem), right?

Walt mentiones the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem; that is right, but it does not seem to be that "famous". If you ask a math student, or even a math prof, about the theorem it is likely they do not have a clue. Anyway, you do not find much trace of SK in the modern math literature. The reason is, I think, because she liked to solve problems which however did not yield any radically new methods to my knowledge. (Here one should consult R. Cooke's book, but it is not availabe to me at the moment.) At one point studying the Saturn ring problem she faced infinite matrices but she did not investigate this new territory further.

Browsing my library for traces of SK I came across a tidbit on math and literature by Grattan-Guiness (The rainbow of mathematics, 1997:754). He can think of only one figure eminent as both mathematician and poet (Omar al-Khayyam), but "in prose, Sonya Kovalevskaya and Felix Hausdorff wrote plays, and she also produced short novels and the best mathematician's autobiography". The last point is very true.

Really, the CK theorem isn't that well-known? I find that hard to believe. It's one of the foundational results for partial differential equations. Maybe not all mathematicians would encounter it, but math is so broad now that that's true for most famous theorems (how many people know what the Hirzebruch-Riemann-Roch theorem says? But Hirzebruch won a Fields Medal for it.)

I think that Amalie Emmy Noether deserves a treatment like this too. She did, after all, prove one of the most beautiful, general and important theorems in modern physics, which intimately connects symmetries and conservation laws.

Emmy Noether's definitely on my "to post" list, particularly since she mentored another reader's suggestion, Grete Hermann. There is, alas, very little easily available information about Hermann online, so that post must wait until I have time to get to an actual library or similar resource...

As for the question of famous vs not-so-famous -- well, someone can be famed in math circles but less well known in physics circles, and vice versa. It goes without saying that the "stars" in both fields rarely, if ever, get featured on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY. More's the pity. I'd like to see their bubblehead on-air "hosts" just try to _pronounce_ the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem...

Although the status of the CK-theorem is a sideline here, I still think it belongs to the less wellknown. You hardly meet it even in typical books on PDE. In my library I find only one textbook (by Peter J Olver) w/ direct reference to CKT and SK's paper (1875). As Noether's theorem was mentioned, that one is in contrast quite wellknown though it has been *rediscovered* many times by ignorant physicists. Interestingly Noether considered it to be a minor piece, while her great oeuvre belonged to (abstract) Algebra (where she was a transformer Gestalt, and in a way fouded a School).

I had read about Mme. Kovaleskya when I was a child, but had not heard about Mary Somerville. Thanks for bringing her to my attention. I think Emmy Noether definitely deserves a writeup. Her work is of tremendous importance to physics (symmetry principles). You may be interested in this website:
http://www.awm-math.org/noetherlectures.html
as well as this website which has an exhaustive list of
prominent women mathematicians, past and present:
http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/women.htm

If you want an example of someone who's unjustly forgotten, I nominate Grete Hermann. She was the first person to point out that Von Neumann's proof that hidden variable theories of quantum mechanics is wrong, a fact rediscovered 40 years later by John Bell.

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