Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Emmy Noether

Day one of Convergence caps off with an exploration of Emmy Noether's theorem, and what it means for physics today.

One slide featuring six photographs stood as the ultimate testament to the ongoing legacy of pioneer mathematician Emmy Noether.

At the end of two talks that described Noether’s career, her groundbreaking theorems, and her work’s ongoing impact, cosmologist Ruth Gregory showed a slide featuring the six women who are mathematical physics faculty at the University of Durham.

“That is Noether’s legacy, and I think she would have been jazzed to see this slide,” Gregory said.

The public lecture about Emmy Noether ended the first day of Convergence.

Mathematician Peter Olver began the presentation with an overview of Noether’s life. A German woman born in 1882, Noether bucked social convention, and pursued her passion for mathematics despite seemingly endless hurdles.

Noether’s first theorem links conservation laws with symmetries of nature. Developed 100 years ago and published in 1918, it forms a bedrock of modern physics.

“Going back to her original paper, you realize how profound her insight had been,” Olver said. “You understand the genius behind them.”

Gregory says Noether managed to enable physicists to pull back the curtain and see  links that are there, but aren’t obvious—between energy and time, rotation and the conservation of angular momentum, and many more.

“Her theorem gave us insights, and gave us something that pervades all the other theories,” she said. The logical conclusion of that, she said, is the Standard Model.

Noether didn’t dwell on her remarkable breakthrough theorem, though. After publishing it, she didn’t really work in physics again, choosing to instead focus on abstract algebra for the remainder of her career.

Asked to give ther own impressions of a woman whom history long neglected, Gregory cited Noether’s unstoppable passion for math, and her commitment to pursuing it despite the barriers.

“She didn’t let social convention limit her. She didn’t get paid, but that’s probably because people hadn’t thought about women and teaching. She changed that. She changed the world and she made it better for all of us.”

- Tenille Bonoguore