May 25 Day 78: Women in Mathematics

Many celebrations have been cancelled or postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Birthdays, graduations, weddings. I’m happy to report that my niece Margo will be exchanging her wedding vows on Wednesday, May 27 at 3 pm ET in a small family ceremony—and I will attend remotely.

One celebration that passed by unmarked in my isolation was on May 12. I’m not talking about Limerick Day or Free Haagen-Dazs Cone Day or even National Nurses Day. But the May 12 Initiative to celebrate Women in Mathematics.

Created in 2018, the Women’s Committee of the Iranian Mathematical Society proposed to the World Meeting for Women in Mathematics that Maryam Mirzakhani’s birthday should be recognized and supported to celebrate women in mathematics. Mirzakhani was an inspiring and remarkable mathematician, recognized for her contributions to the dynamics and geometry of Riemann surfaces with a Fields Medal in 2014. She was the first woman (and first Iranian) to be so honored. She died too young from breast cancer in 2017. So to shine light on Maryam Mirzakhani’s mathematical legacy, I chose her as one of my LuxArt subjects last night.

In keeping with the belated Celebration of Women in Mathematics, I also painted Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), English mathematician considered the “first computer programmer.”

For those unfamiliar with luminous bacterial art, it’s like painting with cloudy water. I can see what is wet on the agar plate but it’s hard to know what I have actually created. An overnight incubation period is required until it glows in the dark with living light.

There are surprising parallels between mathematics, LuxArt, and remote emergency teaching. In each case, I know what I hope to achieve and have many tools to help me succeed. Once started on a journey, I make my best guesses and hope that time will prove my actions worthwhile. Sometimes a detail is overlooked, a hole discovered, or I make an outright mistake. So I try again. And again.

Published by Jenny Quinn

Mathematician. Mother. Wife. Leader. I am a professor of mathematics at the University of Washington Tacoma. Mother of Anson and Zachary. Wife to Mark. President of the Mathematical Association of America.

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