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Sofia Kovalevskaya
   This week's look in the vaults tells us about Sofia Kovalevskaya....


Kovalevskaya was born on January 15, 1850, in Moscow.
She was a brilliant mathematician and showed an interest in the subject from an early age.

When Sofia was about six years old, her father retired from the army and the family moved to live in a castle near the Lithuanian border. She felt unloved and ignored by her parents and this was made worse by the remote location of the castle. She had a strict English governess who would humiliate her if she ever disobeyed or failed to live up to expectations.

The family didn't have enough wallpaper for Sofia's room so the walls were covered with some printed notes on advanced maths that her father had bought when he was a student. Little did anyone realise what an effect this would have on Sofia. She spent hours studying the formulas and trying to understand them. She remembered these formulas years later when she began to study maths at an advanced level and amazed her teachers by what she knew.

Sofia had to overcome a lot of discrimination as a female mathematician but she persisted and began teaching at the University of Stockholm. Her talents were eventually recognised and she became known as the "Princess of Science", the only woman professor in the country.

In 1888 she entered a prestigious competition for which a prize of 3000 francs was offered. When the judges announced their decision they said that the winning entry was so exceptional that the prize had been increased to 5000 francs. The winner, announced on Christmas Eve, was Sofia Kovalevskaya.


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