Creative Wallpaper?

Saturday Jan. 15th 2011 will mark the 161st birthday of Sofia Kovalevskaya.  While many of you may not recognize the name, Sofia is considered the greatest female mathematician, pre-20th Century.  And, like many of my students, you may be wondering how one “grows” into such a great mathematician.  It turns out that, in Sofia’s case, it takes some good interior design.

Like the “dream child” of any parent, Sofia had an early interest in math (thanks in part to her uncle.)  However, it wasn’t until the age of 11 that this interest really took off.  It was at this age that her family decided to decorate the walls of her bedroom with the lecture notes from a course in differential and integral calculus that her father had taken years earlier.  By staring at the wallpaper and getting lost in the beautiful equations, Sofia was able to make connections between it and the things that her uncle had told her.  The wallpaper offered her a portal into the world of calculus!

According to her autobiography, “The meaning of these concepts I naturally could not yet grasp, but they acted on my imagination, instilling in me a reverence for mathematics as an exalted and mysterious science which opens up to its initiates a new world of wonders, inaccessible to ordinary mortals.

Moral of the story:  teenagers everywhere, tear down those ridiculous “Glee” posters and put up those math notes!  You’ll be glad you did!

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