Sophie Germain Essay, Research Paper
All things considered, she was probably the most profoundly intellectual woman that France has ever produced. And yet, strange as it may seem, when the state official came to make out her death certificate, he designated her as a “renti re-annuitant” (a single woman with no profession) — not as a “math maticienne.” Nor is this all. When the Eiffel Tower was erected, there was inscribed on this lofty structure the names of seventy-two savants. But one will not find in this list the name of that daughter of genius, whose researches contributed so much toward establishing the theory of the elasticity of metals — Germain Germain. Was she excluded from this list for the same reason she was ineligible for membership in the French Academy — because she was a woman? If such, indeed, was the case, more is the shame for those who were responsible for such ingratitude toward one who had deserved so well of science, and who by her achievements had won an enviable place in the hall of fame.
H. J. Mozans, 1913 Sophie Germain was born in Paris on April 1, 1776 to Ambroise-Francois and Marie Germain. It was a time of worldwide social and political upheaval. The same year, a group of rebels across the Atlantic Ocean declared their independence from Great Britain. A little more than a decade later, the people of her own country would overthrow their government in an attempt to incur social changes. It was a time in which only males and members of the aristocracy were educated and allowed to pursue their academic, political or business interests. Germain would grow and rebel against this standard, advance the fields of mathematics and physics, and become one of the most accomplished academics of her time.
When Germain was thirteen years old, the French Revolution had begun, making Paris a dangerous place to live. Germain s parents confined her to her house, where she had little to do but read from her father s library. Here she read about ancient history, science and mathematics. One particular story, about the death of Archimedes, inspired Germain so that she read and learned every book on geometry that she could find. Thus began Germain s lifelong study of mathematics.
Germain s father was a merchant, and later became the President of the Bank of France. The family was wealthy, but since they were not aristocrats, the times dictated that Germain remain uneducated. Germain s parents did everything in their power to prevent her from learning. She began studying at night, but her parents went so far as to take the lamps out of her room to discourage nighttime reading. Germain evaded this by hiding candles in her room. Germain s parents soon recognized her passion and commitment to learning, and they finally permit her to study at home. She studied geometry, and then differential calculus, and learned them well without the aid of a tutor.
In 1784, L Ecole Polytechnicnique opened in Paris. This school was founded in order to train prospective French mathematicians and scientists. Since Germain was female, she was not allowed to attend. However, she was able to procure lecture notes of a student, Antoine-August Le Blanc. Germain took the identity of Monsieur Le Blanc, and she was able to study indirectly at L Ecole Polytechnique, submit study problems to the professors and receive feedback. Germain retained the pseudonym for years, and used it in correspondences to Gauss, the greatest mathematician of the time.
Germain s contributions to Number Theory include a proof of a special case of Fermat s last unproved theorem. The theorem states that there are no whole number solutions for the equation ap + bp = cp. Germain proved that if both p and 2p + 1 are primes, then the equation has no solution in integers a, b, c with p not dividing abc. Primes that obey the aforementioned property are now known as Germain primes.
Amazingly, Germain s partial proof of Fermat s last theorem was completed while she was in her twenties. Germain went on to make profound contributions in applied mathematics, particularly the study of elasticity and vibration of metals. Despite her achievements, she was shunned by most of the academic community due to her gender. Germain never felt she received the credit that she deserved, and rightly so. Her accomplishments continued to be overlooked until the late nineteenth century, when attitudes about the role of women began to change. Historians now realize the scope of Germain s achievements and place her among the great academics of the nineteenth century.