Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Celebrating Mary Somerville: the Queen of Science

Mary Fairfax Somerville: despite little formal education, she was determined to understand the natural world.When the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) issues its new ten-pound note towards the end of 2017, the 19th century’s “Queen of Science” will surely inspire new generations in her homeland. But the legacy of self-taught mathematician Mary Fairfax Somerville reaches way beyond Scotland: she was a brilliant translator of science for the public and a passionate advocate for women’s education.

The RBS’s new polymer note shows Mary as a young woman; but she was 50 years old by the time she shot to fame in 1831, after the publication of her cutting-edge Mechanism of the Heavens. Academics were astounded: it was said that no more than five men in Britain were capable of writing such a demanding book, based as it was on the work of leading French mathematician Pierre-Simon Laplace. It was a phenomenal achievement for a woman who taught herself science and mathematics at a time when most universities did not admit females. Mechanism of the Heavenswas not just a momentary curiosity; it was used as a textbook in Cambridge’s advanced mathematical astronomy classes for the next century.

read more here @ Cosmos Magazine

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