This year’s International Women's Day theme is Balance for Better, a theme embraced today by the University of Alberta’s Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences with an overdue update to a vintage poster to celebrate the contributions of women in mathematics.
If you’ve walked the hallways on the sixth floor of the Central Academic Building (CAB), you may have seen a poster older than the building itself. In 1966, IBM sponsored the printing of a poster called Modern Men of Mathematics, itself an iteration of what had been displayed at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964.
The poster highlighted the contributions of mathematicians through the ages. But it failed to recognize the equally significant contributions of female mathematicians—something staff in the department have been looking to change, and was carried out today by Gerda de Vries, professor and Associate Dean (Undergraduate), and Jill Bagwe, assistant chair in the department.
“March 8 marks International Women's Day, a day to observe the progress made in the area of gender equality and to reflect on the necessary changes and challenges required going forward,” said Bagwe. “Today, the department reflects upon the contributions of both men and women to maths and in celebration, we’ve updated this vintage poster to the ‘Modern Men and Women of Mathematics.’”
The additions celebrate the rich history of women in the field of mathematics, including Emmy Amalie Noether, whose work led to formulations for several concepts of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Once relegated to a footnote—and the only woman on the original poster, Noether’s contributions have been detailed to accurately reflect her significant contributions to the field, among others including Canadian mathematician Cathleen Synge Morawetz for her work in partial differential equations.
“We discussed simply taking down the poster as an alternative but this is such a more positive message,” said de Vries. “We now have a wall in CAB celebrating not just the contributions by men, but also by women.”
The additions are the first step in a long-term solution to addressing the poster, as well as ongoing efforts to improve diversity in the department, but de Vries points out that in the spirit of today’s theme: balance is, indeed, better.
The Faculty of Science is committed to working to counteract factors contributing to the under-representation of women and marginalized groups within the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) and to foster more diverse, representative science. Increasing diversity in science brings new perspectives, insights, and innovation, and helps us to continue to push the boundaries of knowledge in the classroom, laboratory, and field.
Learn more about research by female scientists on campus, as well as gender equality and diversity initiatives on the Faculty of Science diversity hub.