The Philosophy and Physics of Noether's Theorems


Sonia Delauney (1937) 'Propeller'

October 5-6, 2018

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2018 brings with it the centenary of a major milestone in mathematical physics: the publication of Amalie ("Emmy") Noether's theorems relating symmetry and physical quantities, which continue to be a font of inspiration for "symmetry arguments" in physics, and for the interpretation of symmetry within philosophy.

In order to celebrate Noether's legacy, the University of Notre Dame and the LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences are co-organizing a conference that will bring together leading mathematicians, physicists, and philosophers of physics in order to discuss the enduring impact of Noether's work. 

Schedule of Speakers

"My methods are really methods of working and thinking; this is why they have crept in everywhere anonymously."

-Emmy Noether


Organisers: Bryan W. Roberts (LSE) and Nicholas Teh (Notre Dame)


Registration is now open through the conference center's web portal and closes on September 28th. Registration includes coffee breaks, lunches, and access to the lectures. Prior to July 15th, we are pleased to offer an early bird registration fee of 50USD for faculty and 20USD for students. After July 15th, the registration fee will be 75USD for faculty and 30USD for students.

Call for Posters

We invite submissions to present a poster on Noether's Theorems and their relationship with any area of physics, mathematics, and philosophy. Submissions should be accompanied by a short abstract (less than 1000 words), on the basis of which posters will be selected. Posters should be in a standard (A0 or 48"x36") format. Deadline: 1 August, 2018

Submit Abstract Now


The conference will take place in Fischer Hall, The University of Notre Dame, 1-4 Suffolk Street, London, UK.

To get there, exit the Charing Cross underground station and walk down the Strand to Suffolk Street. Go North on Suffolk St; Fischer Hall is one block up on the right at the corner of Suffolk Place.

The conference room in Fischer Hall is wheelchair accessible. Participants who would like to plan an accessible visit can write to Brian Klue, Director of Facilities.


Friday, 5 October 2018

Day 1: Conceptual Foundations
09:00-10:15 Yvette Kosmann-Schwarzbach
10:15-11:30 Ruth Gregory
11:30-12:00 Coffee Break
12:00-13:15 Oliver Pooley
13:15-14:30 Lunch and Posters
14:30-15:45 Jeremy Butterfield
15:45-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-17:30 Tudor Ratiu
17:30-18:45 Peter Olver

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Day 2: Applications & Extensions
09:00-10:15 Anne Davis
10:15-11:30 Kasia Rejzner
11:30-12:00 Coffee Break
12:00-13:15 Sebastian De Haro
13:15-14:30 Lunch and Posters
14:30-15:45 Sabrina Pasterski
15:45-16:15 Coffee Break
16:15-17:30 Robert Spekkens
17:30-18:45 John Baez

Accommodation and Childcare

Details about the conference hotel location to be announced soon.

There are convenient child care services near Fischer Hall, available via The London School of Economics. Information and daily fees are available on their website.


About Emmy Noether

Amalie (Emmy) Noether was born in Erlangen in 1882. Although women were not allowed to pursue university study in Germany at the time, in 1900 Noether was given special permission to study mathematics at the University of Erlangen, and passed her examinations in 1903. She defended a thesis on invariants of biquadratic forms under Paul Gordan in December of 1907.

In 1915, already with several impressive papers published, Noether was invited by Felix Klein and David Hilbert to come to work at the prestigious Mathematical Institute in Göttingen. There is an infamous report of this experience, described here by her nephew Gottfried Noether (1983, Springer-Verlag, pg.136):

Having called Emmy Noether to Göttingen, Hilbert and other mathematicians wanted a regular faculty appointment for her, or, at the very least, that she be allowed to get the Habititation and thus become a Privatdozent. But permission for the Habititation had to be obtained by vote of the entire philosophy faculty, in which were included not only scientists and mathematicians, but also philosophers, philologists, and historians, most of whom were unswervingly opposed to permitting a woman to try for the Habitilation.... Opponents asked:

"How can we permit a woman to become a Privatdozent? Having become a Privatdozent, she can then become a professor and a member of the University Senate. Is it possible that a woman enter the Senate?" Further they asked, "What will our soldiers think when they return to the University and find that they are expected to learn at the feet of a woman?"

Hilbert answered bluntly:

"I do not see that the sex of the candidate is an argument against her admission as a Privatdozent. After all, the University Senate is not a bathhouse."

Despite all the arguments advanced by the mathematicians, the faculty rebuffed the nomination. Hilbert finally solved the issue by having Emmy Noether lecture in his stead. In fact, the catalog for the winter semester of 1916-1917 at Göttingen contains the following entry: 'Mathematical physics seminar: Professor Hilbert. with the assistance of Dr. E. Noether, Mondays, from 4-6, no tuition.'

Noether quickly became a leading figure among the Göttingen mathematicians, where her students were often referred to as "Noether's Boys". Natalie Angier reports of her:

Noether lived for math and cared nothing for housework or possessions, and if her long, unruly hair began falling from its pins as she talked excitedly about math, she let it fall. She laughed often and in photos is always smiling.

In 1918, at the end of the war and of the monarchy in Germany, Noether published the famous "Noether theorems". She also published seminal work on algebraic invariants and on the inverse Galois problem. She was finally awarded a Habilitation in June of 1919, but in spite of her growing fame, she continued to work for years at the university without pay, before finally being awarded a small stipend. In the 1920's Noether turned to work on ring theory and topology, and later to representation theory. In 1932 Noether received the Alfred Ackermann-Tebner Memorial Prize for the Advancement of Mathematical Knowledge.

Noether's career at Göttingen ended with the Nazi purge of the German university system. Bernhard Rust is famously said to have asked Hilbert after this event, "How is mathematics at Göttingen, now that it is free from the Jewish influence?" Hilbert replied, "There is no mathematics in Göttingen anymore."

Emmy Noether escaped to the United States, where she took up a position at the women's liberal arts college Bryn Mawr. In 1935, at the age of 53, Noether died of complications following ovarian surgery. Her work remains one of the most influential legacies in twentieth century mathematics and physics. In his obituary for Emmy Noether in The New York times, Einstein wrote:

In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians.

Her work continues to retain its remarkable importance and relevance to this day.

Portrait of Emmy Noether

— Bryan W. Roberts and Nicholas Teh, May 2018


Notre Dame International

Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts
Notre Dame International

John Templeton Foundation 
John Templeton Foundation

LSE Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Sciences 

National Science Foundation