International Women’s Day: Maths

Monday 8th March is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. Chances are you’re probably well aware of Newton, Einstein and Turing, but when it comes to famous female mathematicians, their achievements are less well known. So in celebration of International Women’s Day we’ve put together a fabulous list of some of the world’s greatest famous female mathematicians.

  1. Maryam Mirzakhani, 1977-2017

What Maryam did: Iranian-born Maryam Mirzakhani was one of the greatest mathematicians of her generation, making exceptional contributions to the study of the dynamics and geometry of mathematical objects called Riemann surfaces. She was a professor at Stanford University and held a Ph.D. from Harvard University. In 2014, she was the first woman, and first Iranian, to be awarded a Fields Medal (also known as the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics) for “her outstanding contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces and their moduli spaces”.

Maryam’s impact: Her work had a huge impact in shaping her field and has opened up new frontiers of research that are just starting to be explored. She shows us that, even in a male-dominated field, women can be role models and lead the way forward with their discoveries.

2. Dame Mary Lucy Cartwright, 1900-1998

What she did: Mary Cartwright was a British mathematician and a woman of many firsts! She was not only the first woman to obtain a first in her university degree, but also one of the first mathematicians to study what is now known as chaos theory. She was the first woman to receive the Sylvester Medal (awarded for the encouragement of mathematical research), the first woman to be President of the Mathematical Association and the first woman to be President of the London Mathematical Society.

Mary’s impact: Thanks to her bravery in daring to defy the status quo, her work has gone on to strongly influence the modern theory of dynamical systems, and she even has a mathematical theorem named after her!

3. Marjorie Lee Browne, 1914-1979

What Marjorie did: Gifted African-American mathematician and educator Marjorie Lee Browne was the first black woman to gain a doctorate in maths. She joined the faculty at North Carolina Central University, shortly after obtaining her Ph.D., where she taught for over thirty years. She was named chair of the Mathematics Department there in 1951, which allowed her to guide the way for some of the earliest computer use in her field.

Marjorie’s impact: She noted that the lack of involvement of black women in STEM subjects was a huge societal issue that needed to be addressed and believed that education was a viable solution. She took advantage of her position as department chair at NCCU to gain a grant to educate secondary school teachers in advanced maths and spent much of her time with local secondary school teachers teaching them about linear algebra, encouraging them to study and obtain advanced degrees and improving the level of maths education as a whole in North Carolina. Her dedication to inspiring confidence in female mathematicians and providing quality education to others for the greater good, has helped her to become a role model for women in STEM everywhere.

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