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The Life and The Scientific Activity of Sofia Kovalevskaya

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Have you ever heard of the great female mathematician, Sofia Kovalevskaya? Probably not. Does this ring a bell? Partial differential equations. Sofia Kovalevskaya is a Russian mathematician and writer who made applauding contributions to partial differential equations, mechanics, and analysis. Did you know that Sofia was the first woman to gain a doctorate in mathematics, the first to be appointed as a professor of mathematics, and the first to join the editorial board of a scientific journal in modern Europe.

Sofia Kovalevskaya was the middle child of an artillery general, Vasily Korvin – Krukovsky and Yelizaveta Shubert, who are both members of Russian nobility and were well educated. Sofia and math was like love at first sight. Her uncle had a significant respect for the field of mathematics. When Sofia was 11 years old, her nursery papered up its wall with pages of notes on integral and differential analysis. She first undertook her proper study of mathematics with a family tutor, Y I Malevich.

Sofia was a very passionate woman. In 1868, she married a paleontologist named Vladimir Kovalevsky so that she could leave Russia and study. The couple went to Austria and then to Germany, where in 1869 she studied at the famous University of Heidelberg under famous mathematicians Leo Koenigsberger and Paul du Bois-Reymond and the physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. The next year she had moved to Berlin, Germany where she was refused entry to the university because of her gender which encouraged her to study privately with mathematician Karl Weierstrass.

In 1874, she presented three papers, on partial differential equations, Saturn’s rings, and elliptic integrals to the University of Gottingen as her doctoral essay and was awarded the degree. The paper that she had written on partial differential equations won valuable recognition within the esteemed European mathematical community. It contained what is now formally known as the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem. Which gives the conditions for the existence of a certain level of partial differential equations. After gaining her degree, she returned back to her home, Russia. Her daughter was then born in 1978. And in 1881, she had seperated from her husband.

In 1883, Sofia accepted Magnus Mittag-Leffler’s invitation to become a lecturer in mathematics at the very well known, University of Stockholm. She was then promoted to full professor in 1889 because of her amazing skills and passion for mathematics. Then, in 1884 she joined the editorial board of the mathematical journal called Acta Mathematics.

In 1888, she had become the first woman to be elected the corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. In the same year, she was awarded the Prix Bordin of the French Academy of Sciences on another paper that she had written which was about the rotation of a solid body around a fixed point.

In 1889, Sofia became the first woman to hold a chair at a European university since physicist Laura Bassia and Maria Gaetana Agnesi.Sofia taught courses on the latest topics in analysis and became the editor of Acta Mathematica, a new journal. She also took over the topic of liaison with the mathematics of Paris and Berlin plus took part in the international conferences. Sofia’s last work that was published was a short article in which she gave a new and simple proof of Brun’s theorem on a property of the potential function of a homogeneous body.

In early 1891, Sofia died of influenza complicated by pneumonia. Sofia also gained a reputation as a writer and as advocate of women’s right and radical political causes.

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