Sofya Kovalevskaya- The first woman with a doctorate in mathematics

Updated: Dec 28, 2020


Sofya Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya, (15 January 1850 – 10 February 1891), was a Russian mathematician who made notable mathematical, partial differential equations and mechanics contributions. She was a visionary in mathematics for women around the world – the first woman to earn a doctorate in mathematics.


She was born in Moscow. Her father was a member of the minor aristocracy, Lieutenant General Vasilyevich Korvin-Krukovsky served in the imperial Russian Army. Yelizaveta Shubert her mother came from a family of German immigrants.


The parents of Kovalevskaya gave her an excellent education. When Sofia was once 11 years old, Ostrogradski's pages on differential and integrative analysis were papered into the walls of her nursery. She found some things in her uncle's sheets she had heard.


Sofya entered into a marriage of convenience with a young paleontologist, Vladimir Kovalevsky, In 1868, in order to leave Russia and pursue his studies. The couple moved together to Austria and then to Germany, in 1869, she attended the University of Heidelberg under the mathematicians Leo Königsberger and Paul du Bois-Reymond and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.


She moved to Berlin the following year, where, having been denied admission to the university on the basis of her gender, she learned privately with mathematician Karl Weierstrass.


In 1874 she submitted three papers—on partial differential equations, on the rings of Saturn, and on elliptic integrals—to the University of Göttingen as her ph.d. study. Her thesis on partial differential equations, the most important of the three journals, has earned her valuable attention and a doctorate.

"It is impossible to be a mathematician without being a poet in soul."- Sofya Kovalevskaya

It includes what is now widely known as the Cauchy-Kovalevskaya theorem, which specifies the conditions for the presence of solutions to a certain class of partial differential equations. After graduation, she moved to Russia, where her daughter was born in 1878. She permanently split from her husband in 1881.


The topic of the Prix Bordin Prize of the French Academy of Sciences was declared in 1886. The entries were to make a major contribution to the research issue of a rigid body. Kovalevskaya entered and was awarded the Prix Bordin for her paper in 1886.


In appreciation of the innovation of such a work, the prize money has been increased from 3,000 to 5,000 francs. Kovalevskaya's further study on this subject received an award from the Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1889, and in the same year, on the initiative of Chebyshev, Kovalevskaya was elected a corresponding member of the Imperial Academy of Sciences. While the Tsarist government consistently refused her a university position in her own country, the laws of the Imperial Academy were modified to allow a woman to be chosen.


Kovalevskaya's last published article was a new, simplified proof of Bruns's theorem of the potential function of the homogeneous body. At the beginning of 1891, at the height of her mathematical powers and popularity, Sofya died of complicated pneumonia flu.



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