Who won the Nobel Prize in Mathematics

One of the highlights of the World Congress of Mathematics will be the awarding of the Fields Medals, which are treated by connoisseurs of the matter and its meaning like a Nobel Prize in Mathematics. Mathematicians around the world deeply regret that the Swedish Academy of Sciences does not award a Nobel Prize in Mathematics. Alfred Nobel himself had decreed this. Why? The rumor persists that the mathematician Sonya Kovalevski should have influenced Alfred Nobel's decision.

The Russian mathematician Sonya Kovalevski lived from 1850 to 1891 and was one of the first women professors of mathematics. At the same time she was politically active, active women's rights activist and a successful writer. She studied mathematics in Heidelberg, but only after professors of mathematics and physics had advocated her. In 1870 she went to Berlin and studied with the most important mathematician of the time, Karl Weierstrass. Between autumn 1873 and spring 1874 she wrote extensive mathematical works. The most important of these is regarded today as the first fundamental work on the general theory of partial differential equations.

After Sonya Kovalevski was in St. Petersburg for some time and gave birth to her daughter Sophia in 1878, she went to Stockholm University as a private lecturer. Against strong resistance, her colleague Gösta Mittag-Leffler, who had brought her to Sweden, secured an extraordinary professorship for her for five years in 1884. At the end of 1887 she met Alfred Nobel, who also courted her, but an affair did not materialize between the two of them. Nevertheless, the rumor continues to this day that there is no Nobel Prize in mathematics because Sonya had a liaison with Nobel and left him because of Mittag-Leffler. The real reason, however, was probably that, for Nobel, mathematics seemed to have no "use for mankind".

Sonya Kovalevski was very successful as a teacher and was popular with the students. She was co-editor of "Acta Mathematica". In the circle of European mathematicians she was more and more recognized as equal among equals. As the highlight of her career, she received the Prix Bordin in 1888 for her work on the "rotation problem". In June 1889 she was appointed full professor in Stockholm. Two years later, Sonya Kowalevski died at the age of 41.

Janny Glaesmer