[In Our Time] Emmy Noether

Emmy Noether

24/01/2019 by BBC Radio 4

Web player: http://podplayer.net/?id=62412079
Episode: http://open.live.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/5/redir/version/2.0/mediaset/audio-nondrm-download/proto/http/vpid/p06yw2r8.mp3

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the ideas and life of one of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century, Emmy Noether. Noether’s Theorem is regarded as one of the most important mathematical theorems, influencing the evolution of modern physics. Born in 1882 in Bavaria, Noether studied mathematics at a time when women were generally denied the chance to pursue academic careers and, to get round objections, she spent four years lecturing under a male colleague’s name. In the 1930s she faced further objections to her teaching, as she was Jewish, and she left for the USA when the Nazis came to power. Her innovative ideas were to become widely recognised and she is now considered to be one of the founders of modern algebra.


Colva Roney Dougal
Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of St Andrews

David Berman
Professor in Theoretical Physics at Queen Mary, University of London

Elizabeth Mansfield
Professor of Mathematics at the University of Kent

Producer: Simon Tillotson

Listen Date: 2019-03-19


  • Let’s get the terrible joke out of the way first: Noether helped Einstein develop the theory of relativity, and the theory of relativity depends on there being no ether in space. Thank you, I’m here all week.
  • The poor thing, having to go into exile to Bryn Mawr and being cold shouldered all the time at Princeton. What a life lived with grace despite being so short changed; first by the pre-Nazi establishment for being a woman, and then by Nazis for being Jewish; and finally again by American academia for being a woman.
  • The bits on her algebraic work were far more inspiring than the sections on how she helped out Einstein with physics work.
  • This was one of the science episodes where I can’t bring out my usual complaint that the medium doesn’t suit the subject and that a book would be more enlightening – possibly because when it comes to particle physics, even a book doesn’t enlighten me.
  • I now want to check out van der Waerden’s Moderne Algebra, and also learn more about the algebra / topology intersection that was described in the episode.
  • And about all the stuff about Rings and symmetry, though lord knows if I’ll be up to it.


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