Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Champions Who Walked Among Us - Article 13 - The Mathematician

  • What do you do when you're more intelligent than you should be?
  • How do you deal with a world where your talent, your gift is not wanted because of what you are?
  • How do you keep going in a hostile environment where rejection resides on your doorstep, only because you were born a woman?
March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry wrote himself into history with his famous quotation that still rings throughout the world in every nation where oppression rules, "Give me liberty or give me death!"

April 18, 1775, Paul Revere's ride through the nearby towns and villages on his way to Lexington loudly shouting, "The British are coming, the British are coming!" Crossed over into the history books.

April 19, 1775, the first shots in the Revolutionary War fell, and the test of strength between  thirteen colonies and their European mother had begun and would define their destiny.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic all seemed peaceful.  The monarchies had their grip on the people, and the relaxation of servitude was not even considered. Even though certain writers were espousing change and promoting ideas of democracy and liberalism, the season for these ideas to mature had not yet risen in Europe. People, who were not fortunate to be born in the upper class, were still treated with an air of disdain in most homes and were the recipients of humorless jokes. Children were abused and used as cheap labor, and many died of hunger.

The majority of the population stood in bondage to a system that prohibited their advancement due to their cultural status, lack of education, and money, which was controlled by those who ruled over them. These were years of decadence and indulgence.  Only a few of the genteel gentry noticed they were about to come to an end.

The eyes of the monarchies focused on the British colonies and the outcome of the war across the ocean. That such a war could take place on European national soil was unthinkable. Nevertheless, change was coming and quicker than the ruling classes thought.

April 1, 1776, in the home of one of the families of the Enlightenment, where the topic of liberality was often discussed, something would take place, which would make its imprint upon history once again––an infant was born.

There was no cause to celebrate when the young baby's eyes opened.  The middle child of a wealthy merchant, it was expected to follow forth in the role placed upon it––she was female.

Nevertheless, at a young age, this young girl's eager desire to learn and her tenacity to discover the world through the books in her father's library alarmed her parents profoundly, and they began to hinder her progress. Rules were implemented in the household to keep her from reading.  It was considered unsuitable and detrimental to her growth. After all, intellect belonged to the male species of the Homo sapiens–– she was female.

The traditions of the time dictated her role ––to bring forth children and satisfy her mate, thinking not required.

How do you explain to a thirteen-year-old girl it is not her job to decipher the mysteries behind Geometry?

She was in the thirteenth year of her life.  Revolution had finally reached the other side of the Atlantic, and the downfall of the Monarchy had begun in France. It was in this period of the country's disturbance and turmoil when the young girl would retreat to her father's library and read books, which caught her fancy.
  • Here, she would read the legend about Archimedes and his death. 
  • Here, she would hide herself as she began to teach herself mathematics.
  • It was here she began to grasp the understanding of Geometry.
Her parents, highly disturbed by her behaviour, hid her clothing when she went to bed so she could not get up in the mornings, took away her candles so she could not read at night, and deprived her of heating in her room to no avail.  The passion within this young teenage girl kept driving her to rebel against all hindrances and all objections, until her parents had to give in and accept what they considered unacceptable and the Mathematician was born.
  • How do you react the unusual talents given to someone at birth?
  • What kind of explanation do you give to your family, your friends, or even strangers when trying to explain an innate talent in yourself or one of your children, which is unexplainable? 
  • How do you curb the passion of a thirteen year old as she exploits her mathematical genius?
During the years of war, this young woman taught herself Calculus while other women were planning their marriage.

The Ecole Polytechnic was founded, and the call went out for students.  France desperately needed mathematicians and scientists, but the most intelligent of all was not permitted ––she was female.

Instead of falling into resignation or despair about the situation, the young woman, now turned 18, came up with an ingenious idea––the creation of M. LeBlanc.

The cleverness and eagerness she possessed forced her to dispose of any bashfulness that would block her goal. Knowing some of the male students attending the institute, she developed friendships with them and borrowed their lecture notes as she continued to teach herself.

If M. LeBlanc had not stood out among all the male students; if he had not been too intelligent; if he had not written the astonishing analysis paper for one of his class assignments; the secret may have never been exposed.  One of his analysis papers caught the eye of the Professor.  He was so impressed with the work, he demanded a meeting, and M. LeBlanc's secret publicize–– the 'He' was female.  After his initial shock, Professor LaGrange, became her mentor, and one of her staunch supporters.

1804, Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor of France, and the Mathematician had begun corresponding with the German mathematician, Carl Friedrich Gauss. She was enchanted by his number theory, because she too had done some work in this direction. Gauss was delighted to have someone on his level with whom he could discuss his theories.

1807, Professor Gauss discovered that his beloved M. LeBlanc was indeed female.

The uphill road to recognition and acceptance would challenge her throughout her life.  Yet, the Mathematician kept going, never giving up.

1829, the Mathematician began to face her last battle, a battle that would lift her into History Books.
Can't you see her people?  Here was the woman, who suffered through,
  • Loneliness,
  • Isolation,
  • Lack of recognition,
woman who
  • Taught herself Geometry and Calculus,
  • Attended the Ecole Polytechnique by teaching herself from the lecture notes of others,
  • Became one of the developers of the number theory
  • Wrote the legendary work in the number theory proving that if x,y, and z are integers and if x^5+y^5=z^5 then x,y,or z must be divisible by 5 which became to major step toward proving Fermat's last theorem for the case where n=5
  • Worked on the theory of Elasticity
  • Finally, in 1816 became the first woman, to be recognized as one of the prominent mathematician  of her times,
 Sophie Germain, the Mathematician, stricken by an incurable illness, which would end her life.

Can't you see her fighting to survive, knowing every minute counted before she spread her wings and took flight?

June 26, 1831the Mathematician roused herself to leave the battlefield. Tired and weary, she prepared herself to Walk On.

She looked back in time at her accomplishments.  What a smile she must have had on her face, when she heard the trumpet sound, and her spirit began to rise. Her journey had been completed, and the Mathematician looked at the door that opened to eternity.

Can't you see her, Sophie Germain, the Mathematician, as she spread her wings, and step-by-step, she Walked On!

She Walked On people, I say, she Walked On! Sophie Germain Walked On!

Walk On!
All you people who are fighting against unbelievable odds,
Walk On!
When you are ridicule because you are different,
Walk On!
When the road ahead is paved with non-acceptance and rejection,
Keep on!
Searching until you find a way,
Keep on!
Knocking on until a door opens,
Keep on!
Asking, until you hear a yes,
And Walk On, I say Walk On!

Pat Garcia

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