Great Engineers & Scientists Blog

Great Engineers & Scientists

In 1676, Sir Isaac Newton wrote "If I have seen further it is by standing on ye shoulders of Giants." In this blog, we take Newton's words to heart, and recognize the many great engineers and scientists upon whose shoulders we stand.

So who do you think of when you hear "Great Engineer"? Let us know! Submit a few paragraphs about that person and we'll add him or her to the pantheon. Please provide a citation for the material that you submit so that we can verify it. Please note - it has to be original material. We cannot publish copywritten material or bulk text taken from books or other sites (including Wikipedia).

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Happy Birthday, Sofia Kovalevskaya

Posted January 15, 2007 4:24 PM

Today is the birthday of Sofia (Krukovsky) Kovalevskaya, the Russian mathematician and writer who became the first woman in modern Europe to hold a university chair. Sofia Kovalevskaya was born on January 15, 1850 in Moscow. Her father, Vasily Vasilievich Krukovsky, was an artillery officer who later became a general and noble. Her mother, Elizaveta Fyodorovna Schubert, was the granddaughter of Theodor Schubert, a mathematician and astronomer.

As a child, Sofia lived at her family's country estate in a room whose walls were papered with her father's old calculus notes. "The meaning of the concepts I could not grasp," she later wrote, "but they acted on my imagination." With help from her uncle Pytor, Sophia convinced her father to provide her with a calculus tutor. The girl's kinship with her eccentric but didactic uncle also fostered her interest in algebra and triogonometry. When his daughter turned 15, Vasily Vasilievich Krukovsky ended her education and forbade her from studying abroad. Sofia Krukovsky's decision to marry Vladimir Kovalensky, a young paleontologist, provided a means of escape in an age when Russian women could not have their own passports.

In 1869, Sofia Kovalevskaya moved to Germany with her new husband. Although the University of Heidelberg did not admit women, Kovalevskaya successfully petitioned the faculty for permission to audit courses in mathematics. The professors who allowed her attendance were soon "ecstatic" about her abilities, as one student later wrote, and "spoke about her as an extraordinary phenomenon." In 1871, Kovalevskaya moved to Berlin to study with Karl Theodor Wilhelm Weierstrass, a professor whose interest in the soundness of calculus had earned him the title "father of modern analysis". Weierstrass's efforts to enroll Sofia at the University of Berlin failed, but he agreed to provide her with private instruction. By the spring of 1874, Sofia Kovalevskaya had completed dissertation-length papers about partial differential equations, Abelian integrals, and Saturn's rings. The Ph.D. in Mathematics that the University of Goettingen agreed to bestow on Kovalevskaya was the first such degree awarded to a woman.

Sofia Kovalevskaya returned to Russia with the hope of obtaining a professorship at St. Petersburg University, but was instead limited to teaching arithmetic to elementary-school girls. "I was", she later quipped, "unfortunately weak in the multiplication tables." After giving birth to a daughter in 1878, Kovalevskaya wrote novels, theatrical reviews, and scientific reports for newspapers. She also wrote several articles about the refraction of light and corresponded with Pafnuty Chebyshev, whose mathematical contributions include probability, statistics, and number theory. Although Sofia Kovalevskaya separated from her husband in 1881, she was deeply affected by his suicide two years later. Once again, she immersed herself in her work, this time earning a teaching position at the University of Stockholm. When her five-year "extraordinary professorship" ended in 1889, Sofia Kovalevskaya became the first woman since the physicist Laura Bassi and the mathematician Maria Gaetana Agnesi to hold a chair at a European university.

During her years at Stockholm, Kovalevskaya taught courses, edited a mathematical journal, and corresponded with mathematicians from across Europe. For her research, she won awards from both the French Academy of Sciences (1886) and the Swedish Academy of Sciences (1889). With the support of Chebyshev, Kovalevskaya was also elected to the Imperial Academy of Sciences in her native Russia. Although the Czarist government had refused to allow her to teach at St. Petersburg University, the rules at the Imperial Academy were changed to allow the election of a woman.

In early 1891, Sofia Kovalevskaya died of influenza complicated by pneumonia. She was 41 years old.

Resources:

http://www.agnesscott.edu/LRiddle/women/kova.htm

http://www-history.mcs.st-andrews.ac.uk/Biographies/Kovalevskaya.html

http://womenshistory.about.com/library/bio/blbio_kovalevskaya.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sofia_Kovalevskaya

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Weierstrass

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pafnuty_Chebyshev

http://www.pinn.net/~sunshine/whm2001/bassi.html

http://www.agnesscott.edu/Lriddle/WOMEN/agnesi.htm

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Popular Science - Weaponology - Scapolie, new member.

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#1

Re: Happy Birthday, Sofia Kovalevskaya

01/27/2007 6:04 AM

Hi moose. Great engineers? In my mind there has never been a greater engineer than, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. He was the engineers engineer, he produced the worlds greatest and largest ships of the time, The Great Eastern, The great Western, The Great Bitain etc. He also produces bridges that are still in use today, all of them famous. He produced canals that are still in use today, but his greatest acheivment was the construction of the Great Western railway that runs from London to Cornwall via Bristol and the Severn tunnel. He even designed and constructed the steam locomotives that ran on these railways. He was mainly self taught, and all this at the start of the Industrial Revolution! Whatever this great man touched apon he produced excellence, and all these things that he designed and constructed are still there today, some of them still in daily use, and I expect will be for the next hundred years. What a legacy!

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Happy Birthday, Sofia Kovalevskaya

01/29/2007 8:38 AM

Thanks for the info, Scapolie. Brunel has a birthday coming up (April 9), so look for a biography then.

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Popular Science - Weaponology - Scapolie, new member.

Join Date: Jan 2007
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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Happy Birthday, Sofia Kovalevskaya

01/29/2007 12:12 PM

Hi Moose. Thanks for your reply, and yes, I did know that Brunels birthday was coming up on the 9th of April. We have had many world beating enginners born here in the UK in the past, so I will name a few here: James Brindley, canal engineer: Thomas Telford, canal, bridge, and civil engineer: George and Robert Sevenson, steam railway and bridge builders: Dunlop, inventor of the pneumatic tyre: Macadam, inventor of the asphalt road: Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine: Thomas Newcomen, inventor of the steam engine: This last engineer developed and constructed the worlds first steam engine, and it was built for mine pumping near to where I live, here in Dudley in the Black Country. 20 years ago a full scale replica was built on the original site, this engine runs on steam every saturday throughout the summer months. If you would like anymore information then contact me at; garnets@blueyonder.co.uk Best regards, Scapolie.

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