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Marie Sophie Germain Essay

571 words - 3 pages

Marie-Sophie Germain, born April 1, 1776 to a French merchant, Ambroise-Francois Germain, "was probably the most profoundly intellectual woman that France has ever produced" (H.J. Mozans qtd. by Singh). Her interest in mathematics was inspired by her readings of the tragic death of Archimedes, who was murdered at the hands of a Roman soldier because he was too engrossed in a geometric problem to take notice of his situation. Germain immediately dove into the great mathematical works, teaching herself the basics of number theory and calculus. Unfortunately, being a woman of that era meant that it was not acceptable for her to indulge her fascination with mathematics. Her parents went to great lengths to keep her from her studies, withholding candles, warmth and even clothes in order to discourage her. ...view middle of the document...

Lagrange's respect for Germain was not diminished by the discovery of her gender, and he became a mentor to her. She eventually began studying new areas of mathematics focusing mainly on number theory, which led her to Fermat's Last Theorem. She worked with the theorem for several years until she felt that she had made a significant breakthrough, and sent it straight to the "greatest number theorist in the world" (Singh), Carl Friedrich Gauss; unfortunately, her fears of her work being trivialized due to her gender, caused Germain to revert back to her alias, M. Le Blanc. As a result, she initially was not credited for her incredible contribution to the community of mathematics; however, in due time, Germain's true identity was revealed to Gauss as well, and he too remained impressed with her work, despite her gender. In her work, "[she] had adopted a new approach to the problem which was far more general than previous strategies" (Singh), which eventually became known as Germain's Theorem.Germain later entered the field of physics, excelling once again despite sexist prejudices, producing a paper, "Memoir on the Vibrations of Elastic Plates", which became the basis for modern theories of elasticity. These discoveries, along with her study of Fermat's Last Theorem, won Germain a medal from the Institut de France and the honour of being the first woman to attend classes at the Academy of Sciences, aside from those married to Academy members. She was also to be presented with an honourary degree from the University of Gottingen. Tragically, she died as a result of breast cancer, June 1831, before the ceremony. Germain's struggle with the gender bias of her day continued into her afterlife when her death certificate was made out to designate her as a "'rentiere-annuitant' (a single woman with no profession) - not as a 'mathematicienne'" (H.J. Mozans qtd. by Singh).

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