19 8 / 2013
Émilie du Châtelet 1706- 1749
Émilie du Châtelet was a French mathematician and physicist. She showed an aptitude for language and math early in life and pursued her studies in an atypical way for women. She quickly mastered four languages and did a substantial amount of work in mathematics. She translated Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which is still the standard French translation. The work includes her commentary.
Émilie was married at nineteen and had children with her husband. She also had several lovers, including Voltaire. Her affair with the man would last for the rest of her life. Their mental compatibility was the fuel of their relationship. In a letter to a friend Voltaire describes Émilie as “a great man whose only fault was being a woman.” He appreciated and loved Émilie so much, he stayed her close companion even when she became pregnant by another lover. It was after this pregnancy that Émilie would die at the young age of forty-three.
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21 11 / 2012
Marie-Anne Lavoisier (nee. Paulze, 1758 – 1836), was a French chemist. She was born in the town of Montbrison, Loire, in a small province in France. She was the wife of Antoine Lavoisier and acted as his laboratory assistant and contributed to his work.
When Marie-Anne was 13, her mother died and she was place in a convent where she received her formal education. At this time she also received a marriage proposal from someone who was nearly three times her age. Her father tried to thwart the marriage and ended up having one of his colleagues offer a proposal. This man was Antoine Lavoisier, a French noblemen and scientist. They were married in 1771, when he was 28 and Marie-Anne was 13.
Antoine was appointed gunpowder administrator and had a chemistry laboratory. Marie-Anne soon became interested in her husband’s scientific research and began to participate in his research. The Lavoisiers spent most of their time together in the laboratory, working as a team conducting research on many fronts. She also assisted him by translating documents about chemistry from English to French. In fact, the majority of the research effort put forth in the laboratory was actually a joint effort between Marie-Anne and her husband, with her mainly playing the role of laboratory assistant.
Marie-Anne made many contributions to her husband’s research and the field of chemistry by keeping detailed lab notebooks, accurately drawing experimental apparatuses so others could understand the methods, and translating and editing his reports. Perhaps her most important translation was that of Richard Kirwan’s essay ‘Essay on Phlogiston and the Constitution of Acids’, which she both translated and critiqued. Marie-Anne also contributed to Lavoisier’s ‘Elementary Treatise on Chemistry’ (1789), which presented a unified view of chemistry as a field. She contributed thirteen drawings that showed all the laboratory instrumentation and equipment used by the Lavoisiers in their experiments.
In 1794, Antoine was imprisoned and later executed during the Reign of Terror. Marie-Anne eventually remarried to a physicist but the marriage was short-lived. She died in 1836 at the age of 78.
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17 11 / 2012
Louise du Pierry
Louise du Pierry (1746 – 1807), was a French astronomer and professor.
Louise du Pierry was a student of Jerome de Lalande in 1779. She was a member of the academy L’Académie de Sciences de Béziers.
In 1789, she became the first female professor at the Sorbonne university in Paris as the leader of the Cours d’astronomie ouvert pour les dames et mis à leur portée for female students. She predicted eclipses, computed the length of day and night and assembled refraction tables. She published her own work in 1799.
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13 11 / 2012
Maria Magdalena Petraccini (1759 -1791), Italian anatomist and physician, professor of anatomy.
Pettracini was born in a merchant family in Tuscany, and moved to Emilia Romagna with her husband, Francesco Ferretti who was a surgeon at the hospital of Bagnacavallo. She was tutored in surgery by her husband, before she became a student in medicine at the University of Florence in 1788.
Maria and her daughter, Zaffira Feretti, were teachers in anatomy at the University of Ferrara. The universities of Salerno and then Bologna were centers of medical education in Italy and known as the locations where most female anatomists and physicians were active. The careers of Pettracini and her daughter indicate that Ferrara also encouraged women as students and teachers.
Pettracini published books about the care of infants and women in childbirth (1789). She protested against the contemporary practice of bandaging of infants, which she claimed could lead to injuries and proclaimed that infants should be allowed to move their limbs. She advocated breast feeding, but also that children should be accustomed to other foods than milk as soon as possible. Though Maria Pettracini died in 1791, her ideas were still talked about after her death.
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03 11 / 2012
Mary Somerville (1780-1872) was an innovative and talented science communicator, with an extraordinary (and mostly self-taught) grasp of mathematics in an era when most women had no access to formal education. As a direct result of her work, calculus was introduced to the English-speaking scientific world, the idea of physics (as a single subject containing topics such as optics, thermodynamics and astronomy) was invented, and the term “scientist” was coined to describe people who studied the various sciences.
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29 10 / 2012
Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714–1774) was a lecturer of anatomy and sculptor of anatomical models in wax. She was married to Giovanni Manzolini, a professor of anatomy at the University of Bologna. When her husband became ill with tuberculosis, she received special permission to lecture in his place. She became professor of anatomy upon his death in 1755. Knowledge of her talent in molding anatomical models spread throughout Europe and she was invited to the court of Catherine II of Russia as well as other royal courts.
Manzolini also crafted two portrait busts in wax, both of which are currently on display at the Palazzo Poggi in Bologna. One is a self-portrait, in which she depicts herself at work dissecting a human brain; the other is of her husband, engaged in similar activity.
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24 10 / 2012
Wang Zhenyi (1768–1797) was a Chinese astronomer. One of the craters of Venus was named after her. She published works about astronomy, mathematics, gravitation, and particularly studied the eclipses of the moon. Wang Zhenyi also defended women’s rights to study.
She studied lunar eclipses by constructing a model. She placed a round table in a garden pavilion (using it as a globe), from the ceiling she hung a lamp (using it as the Sun) and on one side of the table she had a big round mirror (as the Moon). Moving them around according to astronomical principles she could see how the lunar eclipse occurred, and her article ‘On the Explanation of the Lunar Eclipse’ was highly accurate. In ‘Of the Ball-Shaped Earth’, she attempted to describe why people would not fall off a spherical Earth, and also attempted to describe the cosmos and the relationship of the Earth within it.
She advocated that within society men and women “are all people, who have the same reason for studying”.
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13 10 / 2012
Marie-Sophie Germain (April 1, 1776 – June 27, 1831) was a French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. Despite initial opposition from her parents and difficulties presented by a sexist society, she gained education from books in her father’s library and from correspondence with famous mathematicians such as Lagrange, Legendre, and Gauss. One of the pioneers of elasticity theory, she won the grand prize from the Paris Academy of Sciences for her essay on the subject. Her work on Fermat’s Last Theorem provided a foundation for mathematicians exploring the subject for hundreds of years after. Because of prejudice against her gender, she was unable to make a career out of mathematics, but she worked independently throughout her life. (continue)
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11 10 / 2012
Dorothea Christiane Erxleben
Dorothea Christiane Erxleben née Leporin (1715–1762) was the first female medical doctor in Germany.
Erxleben was taught medicine by her father from an early age.The Italian scientist Laura Bassi’s university professorship inspired Erxleben to fight for her right to practice medicine. In 1742 she published a tract arguing that women should be allowed to attend university.
After being admitted to study by a dispensation of Frederick the Great, Erxleben received her M.D. from the University of Halle in 1754. She went on to analyze the obstacles preventing women from studying, among them housekeeping and children.
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09 10 / 2012
Nicole-Reine Lepaute (née Étable; 1723-1788) was a French astronomer and mathematician. She predicted the return of Halley’s Comet, calculated the timing of a solar eclipse, and constructed a group of catalogs for the stars. She was a member of the French Academy of Science.
She was born in Paris and in 1749, she married a royal clockmaker. Nicole constructed a clock with an astronomical function together with her husband. The clock was presented to the French Academy of Science in 1753, were it was inspected and approved by Jérôme Lalande, a French astronomer.
Jérôme Lalande recommended her along with the mathematician Alexis Clairault to calculate the predicted return of Halley’s Comet. In November 1758, the team presented their conclusion that the comet was to arrive on April 13, 1759. They were almost correct, as the comet arrived on March 13, 1759. Clairault did not recognize Nicole’s work at all, which upset Lalande who acknowledged her help in an article.
In 1759, she was again a part of Lalande’s team and worked with him to calculate the ephemeris (a table of values that gives the positions of astronomical objects in the sky at a given time or times) of the Transit of Venus. In 1761, she was acknowledged by being inducted as an honorary member of the distinguished Scientific Academy of Beziéres.
In 1762, Nicole calculated the exact time of a coming solar eclipse on April 1, 1764. She wrote an article in which she gave a map of the eclipse’s extent in 15-minute intervals across Europe. The article was published in Connaissance des temps (Knowledge of the times). Lepaute also created a group of catalogs of the stars which were useful for the future of astronomy. She calculated the Ephemeris of the Sun, the Moon and the Planets for the years 1774–1784.
The asteroid 7720 Lepaute is named in her honour, as is the lunar crater Lepaute.
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