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Emmy Noether Play is a Homecoming in Honor of Trailblazing Former Faculty Member

September 13, 2022
Emmy Noether
Mathematician Emmy Noether

When former Bryn Mawr faculty member Emmy Noether died in 1935, Albert Einstein wrote to The New York Times that she was "the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began."

On Thursday, Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m., Portraittheater Vienna in cooperation with Freie Universität Berlin will present Diving into Math with Emmy Noether, a theater performance about Noether's extraordinary life and contributions to mathematics and physics. The performance will take place in the Hepburn Teaching Theater in Goodhart Hall.

Among those who have done the most to keep Noether's legacy known and documented is Associate Professor of German Qinna Shen.

Shen is one of the organizers who brought the event to Bryn Mawr. In 2019, her article A Refugee Scholar from Nazi Germany: Emmy Noether and Bryn Mawr College was published in the journal Mathematical Intelligencer.

"Whereas Noether's earlier life and work in Erlangen and Göttingen is well documented, many of the materials concerning her emigration and time at Bryn Mawr have not yet been collected and organized," writes Shen in the article. "This essay aims to undertake that task and to make the story of Noether, still recognized as the greatest woman in her field, known beyond the circle of mathematicians and physicists."

In the article, Shen writes about how Noether was able to escape Germany in 1933 and come to Bryn Mawr through the efforts of the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced German Scholars and Bryn Mawr President Marion Edwards Park among others.

Filled with correspondence from Park and Noether, Shen's article looks at the many factors that led the mathematician to finally choose Bryn Mawr.

Complications from surgery cut Noether's life short at the age of 53, but prior to her death, she confided to a colleague that her time at Bryn Mawr had been the "happiest in her whole life." 

"I am thrilled that the Noether play is finally coming to Bryn Mawr," says Shen. "The original plan of having the premiere of its U.S. tour at Bryn Mawr was upstaged by the pandemic but I know that having a performance at Noether’s second Heimat is of special meaning to the troupe. I am also happy that my article made the role of Bryn Mawr in Noether’s life better known and, in so doing, helped revive the memory of Noether."