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Sofia Kovalevskaya
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Sofia Kovalevskaya

Sofia Vasilyevna Kovalevskaya (January 15, 1850 - February 10, 1891) was a Russian mathematician and a student of Karl Weierstrass in Berlin. In 1881 she was appointed professor at Stockholm University, the first woman in Europe to become a professor.

Kovalevskaya was born in Moscow. Her father was Vasily Vasilievich Kriukovskoi (1800-1874), an artillery officer of Polish descent. He managed to convince the Russians to list him as descended of aristocracy, a Hungarian king in particular; in 1858 he was permitted to change his surname to Korvin-Krukovsky.

Her mother was Elizaveta Fyodorovna Schubert (1820-1879). She was granddaughter of Theodor Schubert aka Fyodor Ivanovich Schubert (mathematician and astronomer of the St Petersburg Academy of Sciences) via Fyodor Fyodorovich Schubert (another Academician) and had more education and ‘appreciation of the finer things’ than her husband.

Sofia Kovalevskaya contributed to the understanding of partial differential equations and essentially completed the study of rotating solids, applying the then-new theory of Abelian functions (and thus "justifying" the enormous effort that was put into the theory).

Kovalevskaya had a crush on Fyodor Dostoevsky and practiced his favourite piano work, Beethoven's Pathetique Sonata, to get his attention, but he was focussed on the older sister Anna and he very probably proposed to her.

(here on has some gaps i'll fill shortly)

There seem to have been several roots to Sophia's mathematical bent. Some came from her father, accidentally; he had studied calculus in the army, and when they ran short of proper wallpaper for one house, used his old notes instead. Sophia spent many hours of childhood scrutinising the strange scribbles. Something of it seems to have stuck for when she later took calculus under ... it came to her very quickly, as if it had always been there.

She adored her uncle ..., a self-taught eccentric with especial fondness for mathematics.

She claims to have a had a good tutor in maths [name], yet he would not explain sines to her when she asked. She was trying to read a book on optics by a friend of her father's, and would up having to guess at what they were. She chose the chord instead of the half-chord, which works quite well enough at the tiny angles involved, and the author was so impressed he immplored Sophia's father to get her, calling her ‘a new Pascal’ in the process.

She died in Stockholm.

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