The Legacy of Sonya Kovalevskaya: Proceedings of a Symposium

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When she was 8 or 9 years old, she was intrigued by a foretaste of what she was to learn later in her lessons in calculus; the wall of her room had been papered with pages from lecture notes by Ostrogradsky , left over from her father's student days. The physicist Nikolai Nikanorovich Tyrtov noted her unusual aptitude when she managed to understand his textbook by discovering for herself an approximate construction of trigonometric functions which she had not yet encountered in her studies. Petersburg, where she was provided private tutoring by Strannoliubskii, a well-known advocate of higher education for women, who taught her calculus.

During that same period, the son of a local priest introduced her sister Anna to progressive ideas influenced by the " Movement of the 's ", providing her with copies of radical journals of the time discussing nihilism. After the famous writer Ivan Turgenev used the word nihilist to refer to Bazarov, the young hero of his novel Fathers and Children , a certain segment of the "new people" adopted that name as well, despite its negative connotations in most quarters For the nihilists, science appeared to be the most effective means of helping the mass of people to a better life.

Science pushed back the barriers of religion and superstition, and "proved" through the theory of evolution that peaceful social revolutions were the way of nature.

For the early nihilists, science was virtually synonymous with truth, progress and radicalism; thus, the pursuit of a scientific career was viewed in no way as a hindrance to social activism. In fact, it was seen as a positive boost to progressive forces, an active blow against backwardness.

Despite Sofia's obvious talent for mathematics, she could not complete her education in Russia. At that time, women were not allowed to attend universities in Russia and most other countries. In order to study abroad, Sofia needed written permission from her father or husband.


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Accordingly, in she contracted a "fictitious marriage" with Vladimir Kovalevskij , a young paleontology student, book publisher and radical, who was the first to translate and publish the works of Charles Darwin in Russia. They moved from Russia to Germany in , after a brief stay in Vienna, in order to pursue advanced studies. In April , following Sofia's and Vladimir's brief stay in Vienna, where she attended lectures in physics at the university, they moved to Heidelberg.


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Through great efforts, she obtained permission to audit classes with the professors' approval at the University of Heidelberg. There she attended courses in physics and mathematics under such teachers as Hermann von Helmholtz , Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen. In October , shortly after attending courses in Heidelberg, she visited London with Vladimir, who spent time with his colleagues Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin , while she was invited to attend George Eliot 's Sunday salons.

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Although there is no record of the details of their conversation, she had just completed a lecture course in Heidelberg on mechanics, and she may just possibly have made mention of the Euler equations governing the motion of a rigid body see following section. George Eliot was writing Middlemarch at the time, in which one finds the remarkable sentence: "In short, woman was a problem which, since Mr. Brooke's mind felt blank before it, could hardly be less complicated than the revolutions of an irregular solid. In October , Sofia moved to Berlin, where she began to take private lessons with Karl Weierstrass , since the university would not allow her even to audit classes.

He was very impressed with her mathematical skills, and over the subsequent three years taught her the same material that comprised his lectures at the university. In she briefly traveled to Paris together with Vladimir in order to help in the Paris Commune , where Sofia attended the injured and her sister Anyuta was active in the Commune.

Although Anyuta managed to escape to London, Jaclard was sentenced to execution. However, with the assistance of Sofia's and Anyuta's father General Krukovsky, who had come urgently to Paris to help Anyuta and who wrote to Adolphe Thiers asking for clemency, they managed to save Victor Jaclard.

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Sofia returned to Berlin and continued her studies with Weierstrass for three more years. With the support of Weierstrass, this earned her a doctorate in mathematics summa cum laude , after Weierstrass succeeded in having her exempted from the usual oral examinations.

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Kovalevskaya thereby became the first woman to have been awarded a doctorate at a European university. In , Sofia and her husband Vladimir returned to Russia, but Vladimir failed to secure a professorship because of his radical beliefs. Sofia never would have been considered for such a position because of her gender. During this time they tried a variety of schemes to support themselves, including real estate development and involvement with an oil company. But in the late s they developed financial problems, leading to bankruptcy.

In , for some unknown reason, perhaps the death of her father, Sofia and Vladimir decided to spend several years together as an actual married couple. Three years later their daughter, Sofia called "Fufa" , was born. After almost two years devoted to raising her daughter, Kovalevskaya put Fufa under the care of relatives and friends, resumed her work in mathematics, and left Vladimir for what would be the last time. Vladimir, who had always suffered severe mood swings, became more unstable. In , faced with worsening mood swings and the possibility of being prosecuted for his role in a stock swindle, Vladimir committed suicide.

Sofia Kovalevskaya Explained

Until Kovalevskaya's death the two women shared a close friendship. In Kovalevskaya was appointed to a five-year position as Extraordinary Professor assistant professor in modern terminology and became an editor of Acta Mathematica. In Kovalevskaya was appointed Ordinary Professor full professor at Stockholm University, the first woman in Europe in modern times to hold such a position.

Kovalevskaya, who was involved in the vibrant, politically progressive and feminist currents of late nineteenth-century Russian nihilism, wrote several non-mathematical works as well, including a memoir, A Russian Childhood , two plays in collaboration with Duchess Anne Charlotte Edgren-Leffler and a partly autobiographical novel, Nihilist Girl In , Kovalevskaya fell in love with Maxim Kovalevsky , a distant relation of her deceased husband, [16] but insisted on not marrying him because she would not be able to settle down and live with him.

Kovalevskaya died of influenza complicated by pneumonia in at age forty-one, after returning from a vacation in Nice with Maxim. Kovalevskaya's mathematical results, such as the Cauchy—Kowalevski theorem , and her pioneering role as a female mathematician in an almost exclusively male-dominated field, have made her the subject of several books, including a biography by Ann Hibner Koblitz, [2] a biography in Russian by Polubarinova-Kochina [17] translated into English by M.

While the AWM currently does not have grant money to support this program, multiple universities continue the program with their own funding [18]. The Sonya Kovalevsky Lecture is sponsored annually by the AWM and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics , and is intended to highlight significant contributions of women in the fields of applied or computational mathematics. The Kovalevskaia Fund , founded in with the purpose of supporting women in science in developing countries, was named in her honor. The lunar crater Kovalevskaya is named in her honor.

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Online Price 1 Label: List. Online Price 1: Print Price 1 Label: List. Print Price 1: Online Price 2: Print Price 2: Online Price 3: Print Price 3: Dual Price 1 Label: List. Dual Price 1: Dual Price 2: Print Available to Order: true. Kovalevskaya - her life and work Section 1. Kovalevskaya - her life and work.