Secret Mathematician: Sophie Germain
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Sophie Germain, born to wealthy parents and coming of age during the French Revolution turned to the study of mathematics as a way to cure her boredom. She quickly became a sneaky mathematician hiding her studies first from her parent’s and later from the mentors she most admired and respected. She had to pose as a male to be taken seriously in her studies. As Sophie grew older and fell in love with mathematics, she fought to be recognized as the mathematician she rightly was. Even after her death Sophie was honored, having both a school and street named for her. Born on April 1st, 1776 in Paris, France, Sophie Germain was the middle child of three girls. Her father, a wealthy Parisian silk merchant, and her mother both believed education of girls should be limited to literature and writing (Cooney, 38). Since the French Revolution occurred during her childhood Germain spent much of her time indoors. Sophie often retreated to her father’s library to read to fight off her boredom (Sophie par. 1). By the age of 13, Germain had already stumbled across stories of Archimedes and his mathematical insights. Though her parents strongly forbade her studies of mathematics, she continued to study math by stolen candles’ light. As women were not generally allowed to attend university, Germaine advanced her mathematical studies by borrowing lecture notes from both male friends who attended the Ecole Polytechnique and the professors who taught there. To be taken seriously Sophie used a male pseudonym, ‘M. le Blanc’; using this pseudonym she exchanged letters with mathematicians (Singh par. 5). Two of these men discovered her identity, though both continued to collaborate with her. When Sophie discovered Karl Gauss’ work in number theory, the two began writing (Reimer and Reimer, 95). Her mathematical genius enabled her to understand Gauss’ work on a higher level than most. She...
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