Sofia Kovalevskaya

 

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Born 1850 in Moscow, Russia, died 1891 in Stockholm, Sweden

Sophia Kovalevskaya's life makes quite an extraordinary story - not only because she was an extremely able mathematician, but also because she fought for her right to study mathematics at a time when university studies were not available to women.

Sophia was attracted to mathematics from an early age by her uncle who often spoke to her about the subject. Sophia later recalled that what he was telling her acted on her imagination, instilling in her

"a reverence for mathematics as... a mysterious science which opens up to its initiates a new world of wonders, inaccessible to ordinary mortals".

Sophia travelled to Heidelberg to study mathematics when she was nineteen, but discovered there that as a woman she could not graduate. She managed to persuade the university authorities to allow her to attend lectures by obtaining permission from all individual lecturers.

In 1871 she moved to Berlin to study with Weierstrass. In 1874 she was granted a doctorate at the Göttingen University. Despite this doctorate and letters of strong recommendation from her teacher who himself was a famous mathematician, Kovalevskaya was unable to obtain an acadmic position for long time. In 1884 however she got a position at the University of Stockholm, and in June 1889 became the first woman since physicist Laura Bassi and Maria Gaetana Agnesi to hold a chair at a European university.

Sophia died very young, at the age of 41, from pneumonia.

 

   

A famous quote of Sophia is

It is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul.

See some other quotes by Sophia and by other famous mathematicians by clicking here.

Sophia's most famous work is on the theory of partial differential equations, and on the rotation of a solid body about a fixed point.

See about some other famous mathematicians here.

Some famous mathematical children are to be found here.

 

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