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Saturday, March 09, 2019

Mathematician Sophie Germain Defied Gender Roles & A New Musical Brings Her To Life | Bustle

The boundary-breaking career of mathematician Sophie Germain, born in 1776, began during the French Revolution, when the chaos of Paris confined the then teenage Germain to her home — and to her books. 
Mathematician Sophie Germain
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Her parents attempted to dissuade her burgeoning gift for mathematics, confiscating her bedroom lamp and fire in an attempt to chill her into bed; instead, she studied by candlelight, huddled under her blankets. A newly-opened university, the École Polytechnique, denied her admission; instead, friends provided her with lecture notes, and she submitted papers under a male pseudonym. 

Despite winning the prestigious grand prize from the French Academy of Sciences, they neither published her work nor allowed her to attend its sessions; instead, she published the essay herself.

As a woman, Germain was persistently excluded from the academic community, and her death certificate listed her as simply a property owner, not a mathematician. Despite contributing vital work on Fermat's Last Theorem, she didn't hold a degree while she was alive (after her death in 1831, she was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Göttingen.) Her work on elasticity was fundamental to the construction of the Eiffel Tower, but unlike 72 male mathematicians, engineers, and scientists, her name isn't inscribed on its side.

Jack Williams
Yet Germain's legacy, though often undervalued, prevails; now, she's the subject of a new musical, The Limit, written by Freya Catrin Smith and Jack Williams. "I was researching women in history, and I was looking into how many of these women have done amazing things and been neglected by the history books," Smith told Bustle. "Turns out there's quite a few!"...

Germain's work, too, lends itself more easily to a musical than you might expect. "Sophie wrote some philosophical essays, and one of them was about how the sciences and the arts are really similar," Smith explained. "Maths and music have these really strong links: through keys, time signatures, the way that music functions."

The Limit has the potential to inspire women and girls to study STEM subjects through Germain's story (and a catchy pop and rock score), Smith hopes. "There’s always been this societal myth that men should be doing the maths and sciences, and I really just want to break that down," she said. 

Source: Bustle