Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Emmy Noether and symmetry: we ought to know HER name

[If you look at the URL of this post, you'll see I originally wrote "his name" in the title. Brilliant mathematical physicist? Tell me you wouldn't make the same blunder. Ok, so not everyone would.]

CV tells us we ought to honor the name of Emmy Noether:
Higgs 101 | Cosmic Variance

...I believe that the greatest (and I mean THE greatest) discovery of the 20th century was to recognize that every symmetry in nature coresponds to some conserved physical quantity. It is a great sorrow that Emmy Noether did not win the Nobel Prize for this profound work. Symmetries are all around us - some are very simple, and some not so simple. For example, consider symmetry in time. The laws of physics are (we presume) the same now as they are at the time you finish reading this sentence, and will be the same 100 years from now. If you move (translate) in time, the rules stay the same. This symmetry in fact leads to conservation of energy. Likewise, if you move in space, the laws of physics are the same. This leads to conservation of momentum. If you rewrite the laws of physics in a frame of reference rotated 42.6 degrees from the one where you are writing them now, they are the same…conservation of angular momentum...
I did not understand the relationship of symmetry to energy conservation.

Alas, Nobels are not given posthumously, which is why there's a correlation between longevity and becoming a laureate. Emmy died young ...
... Emmy fled Germany in 1933; she had been forbidden from teaching undergraduate classes by the Nazi racial laws. She joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr College in the United States. She died at Bryn Mawr on 14 April 1935 in mysterious circumstances. Her doctor told her that she needed an operation, and she scheduled it during a college break at Bryn Mawr, without telling anyone. She perished during or shortly after the surgery. Emmy never married, and she had no relatives in the USA. Emmy was buried in the Cloisters of Thomas Great Hall on the Bryn Mawr Campus.
There was at that time a common operation performed secretly with a high mortality rate, but Ms. Noether was 53 when she died.

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