A Spot of Inspiration: Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether. A woman regarded as one of the most important in abstract and theoretical physics towards the beginning of the 20th century. A true revolutionary: both in terms of her scientific discoveries, but also in terms of her accomplishments due to pure willingness to learn and the consequent ending up in then-forbidden-to-females places… like university. A place that I, along with thousands of other females, now take for granted.

Emmy Noether
Emmy Noether

Amalie Emmy Noether was a German Jew and a pacifist, living in Nazi Germany. Perhaps even more horrifying was the fact that Emmy was, indeed… a female. You can therefore easily guess her lifestory: a rare, mathematically-inclined woman amongst thousands of males within the halls of Erlangen and later, the University of Gottingen. Teaching without pay for a number of years and collaborating with the big names in the field, such as Hilbert, Klein, Minkowski… this takes courage. Only teaching under Hilbert’s name allowed her to surpass the restrictions on her gender and thus pass on her passion for general relativity, gaining her a massive thumbs-up from Einstein himself. 1918 comes along, and the lone wolf strikes to make her name remembered through her theorem: the aptly named Noether’s theorem. It goes something like this:

parallelnerdette.comConservation laws are based on symmetry. For example, conservation of angular momentum on a wheel springs from its rotational symmetry about one axis. Conservation of energy springs from symmetric translations within time. Actions invariant under space translation give rise to the conservation of linear momentum. So conservation laws spring from nature! Here, we have the Lagrangian equation: L = T - V.  – where T = kinetic energy, V = potential. In generalised co-ordinates: L(q_1,q_3,q_4, \dots; \dot q_1,\dot q_2,\dot q_3,\dot q_4, \dots;t)\,. In fact… here are the basics, because I like using my whiteboard. Click on the images to enlarge.parallelnerdette.com


If the Lagrangian doesn’t explicitly depend on a certain parameter; said parameter then leads to a conserved quantity – example above. And in fact…


This is all simple language and I’ll spare you the nerdy, mathematical details. But if you’re genuinely interested (or if you’re revising for your Hamiltonian Mechanics module at university!) then here is a nifty article I’ve found after a quick search on Google. You’re welcome.

“In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians.” – Albert Einstein,

I choose to write a bit about Emmy, as I was inspired by one of my lecturers (who happens to be the only female I’ve been taught by over the past couple of years…) who mentioned her name whilst discussing the basics of Noether’s Theorem. Of course, Emmy had also made some other notable discoveries: group theory, number theory, general abstract algebra… girl, she had it all – plus Einstein and Hilbert behind her, which is certainly not something to be sniffed at!

Even the Nazi’s didn’t manage to stamp out her life; though sadly, she died after an operation on a pelvic tumour in the spring of 1935. Unfortunate as it is, at least we can safely say that her life’s work had been done, and she was spared the horrors of WWII.

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