Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Women in physics

Female physicists have continued to confront deep-seated prejudices. Emmy Noether, who discovered that all physical conservation laws were associated with mathematical symmetries, was a contemporary to Einstein and helped work out some of the math of general relativity. She did so without a formal academic position and mostly without pay.

Lise Meitner, who developed the theory of nuclear fission, was not included when the Nobel Prize was given for this work in 1944. The Harvard University physics department did not give tenure to a woman until 1992.

This week, the Swedish Academy announces the Nobel Prizes in science. It will be remarkable if any women are on the list. Marie Curie won a Nobel in physics in 1903; the only woman to follow her was Maria Goeppert Mayer in 1963, when she shared the award for her theory about the structure of atomic nuclei. In mathematics women have fared even worse. The Fields Medal, the mathematical equivalent of a Nobel, has never gone to a woman.

From Margaret Wertheim's article which appeared in the NYTimes today, just a few hours before the announcement from the Physics Nobel Committee.

Update: Here's the Nobel announcement: this year's Physics Prize is shared by John C. Mather and George F. Smoot.


  1. gaddeswarup said...

    Just noticed this:

  2. gaddeswarup said...

    It seems that Lise Meitner was nominated 11 times.