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Women Mathematicians for International Women’s Day

Here at Maths on Toast we’re strong advocates of building a resilient attitude towards maths – understanding that it can take hard work and perseverance to reach a solution and you can’t always expect to get results or know the answer straightaway.  

All of the women mathematicians featured in our blog today will have had to show extreme resilience and overcome many challenges to make their mark in the male-dominated world of mathematics. For centuries, women were told that the world of maths and science ‘wasn’t for them’. Luckily for us, these women refused to believe that and had the courage and tenacity to keep going. 

We’ve chosen 3 profiles for today’s blog – but don’t worry, we’ll be back with more… 

Katherine Johnson (pictured)
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson was born in West Virginia, USA in 1918. Katherine and her siblings had to travel to a neighbouring county in order to be able to go to high school – the area they lived in did not offer schooling to African-American children past the age of 13.
After a maths degree and a stint teaching, Johnson went into mathematical research and eventually to a job at NASA, as part of a team led by Dorothy Vaughan. Her work on orbital mechanics and astrodynamics involved calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for the first U.S manned space flights and the Apollo lunar lander. Johnson recalled that in the early days of NASA, women were not allowed to put their names on reports. In 2015, at the age of 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour.  

Emmy Noether
Amalie Emmy Noether was born in Germany in 1882. Her work on symmetry led to Noether’s theorem, which explains the connection between symmetry and conservation laws in physics. It has been credited as ‘one of the most important mathematical theorems ever proved in guiding the development of modern physics. At various times throughout her career she had to work for free and lecture under the name of a male colleague.  

Shakuntala Devi
Born in 1929 in Karnataka, India, Shakuntala Devi showed a love of numbers and a precocious ability to manipulate them from a very young age. In 1983, she gained an entry into the Guinness Book of Records as ‘the human computer’ for solving the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers in 28 seconds*. She disliked her human computer nickname, stating that human minds were better than any computer and advocating strongly for exploring and expanding the learning capacity of the mind. She was a firm believer in harnessing children’s curiosity to motivate young minds to discover the world of maths. 
*In case you were wondering, the calculation was 7,686,369,774,870 × 2,465,099,745,779 = 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730  

And finally, a round of applause to the fantastic team of women here at Maths on Toast, including our very own mathematician, founder Alexandra Fitzsimmons.  

We’re here to show the world how creative, fun maths is everywhere and for everyone!