June 29, 2022
Sophie Germain showed that a woman can be a scientist - 05/24/2022 - Marcelo Viana

Sophie Germain showed that a woman can be a scientist – 05/24/2022 – Marcelo Viana

Marie-Sophie Germain was born in Paris in 1776. His father, a wealthy merchant, was elected representative of the bourgeoisie in the States General of 1789, as French Revolution. So she probably watched many political debates inside. However, it was his calling, from an early age, to mathematics.

The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 threw the French capital into a fit of revolutionary frenzy. For protection, Sophie was kept at home, taking refuge in her father’s library to kill her boredom. There he found the wonderful works of Isaac NewtonAnd Leonard Euler and Etienne Bezot, among others.

Jacques Cousin, a contemporary mathematician, encouraged his studies in the field of discipline, but his parents were far from approving such an “indecent” activity for a young “family” girl. She was forbidden to set fire to her room, and was denied warm clothes to keep her from studying at night – which she continued to do anyway.

In 1794, the École Polytechnique de Paris was opened, which soon became one of the most prestigious engineering colleges in the world. Of course, women could not register, but at that time there was one notable rule: class notes should be made available to “anyone who asks for them”. In addition, students were required to “make written comments”.

Sophie got the material, and began sending comments to Joseph-Louis Lagrange, a professor at the Polytechnic. At first, he used a male pseudonym: as he explained years later to Gauss, he feared “the irony attributed to the idea of ​​a scientist”. But when the master realized the intelligence of his correspondent, he asked to meet and reveal the secret. Lagrange was not shaken and became his mentor.

Today, Germain is remembered for her work on number theory, including an ingenious proof of proposition theory Fermat. But she is also considered the co-founder of the theory of elasticity, a topic to which she has dedicated award-winning work by the Academy of Sciences. I will talk more about your work next week.

Sophie Germain died in 1831, the same year that her last scientific work was published. Six years later, Gauss said of her that she “has proven to the world that a woman can achieve something of value in the most rigorous and abstract science, and for that she is worthy of an honorary doctorate.” Unfortunately, he failed to impress his colleagues.

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