Kovalevskaya was admitted in 1869 to the University of Heidelberg, Germany, which allowed her to study as long as the professors involved approved. Shortly after beginning her studies there, she visited London with her husband Vladimir, who visited his acquaintances Thomas Huxley and Charles Darwin, while Sonya was invited to one of George Eliot's Sunday salons. There, at age nineteen, she met Herbert Spencer and was led into a debate, at George Eliot's instigation, on "woman's capacity for abstract thought". This was well before she made her notable contribution of the "Kovalevski top" to the brief list of known examples of integrable rigid body motion. George Eliot was writing Middlemarch at the time, in which one finds the remarkable sentence: "In short, woman was a problem which, since Mr. Brooke's mind felt blank before it, could hardly be less complicated than the revolutions of an irregular solid." (Middlemarch, Chapter IV).
After two years of mathematical studies at Heidelberg, she moved to the University of Berlin, where she had to take private lessons from Karl Weierstrass since the university didn't admit women at all. Kovalevskaya prepared three different doctoral dissertations before settling on a fourth one that, with the support of Weierstrass, earned her a doctorate summa cum laude from the University of Göttingen in 1874. This meant that her achievements were so impressive, that the University did not require her to attend any lectures or examinations in order to award her the degree. Her result, now known as the Cauchy-Kowalevski theorem, was published in . Thus, Sofia Kovalevskaya became the first woman in Europe to earn a doctorate in mathematics.
The return of the Kovalevskys to Russia was futile, as no university would hire them with their European degrees. Returning to Germany, they consummated their marriage leading to the birth of a daughter, Sofia “Fufa.” When the girl turned one year old, Kovalevskaya resumed her work in mathematics.
After Kovalevsky's suicide in 1883, Kovalevskaya, with the support of Gösta Mittag-Leffler, was offered a position as a private docent at the Stockholm University in Sweden. The next year she was on tenure-track and began editing Acta Mathematica. In 1888 she won the French Prix Bordin for her work on the Kovalevsky top, which included analysis of the dynamics of Saturns rings. In 1889 she won a prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the same year was appointed professor in Stockholm University, while she also achieved a chair in the Russian Academy of Sciences. She was never offered a professorship in Russia, but received other honors from her homeland when she died of pneumonia in 1891 at forty-one.
Sonia Kovalevsky High School Mathematics Day is a program named after Kovalevsky and is a grant-making initiative of the Association for Women in Mathematics(AWM), funding workshops across the United States which encourage girls to explore mathematics.
The Sonia Kovalevsky Lecture is sponsored annually by the AWM, and is intended to highlight significant contributions of women to applied or computational mathematics. Past honorees have included Irene Fonseca (2006), Ingrid Daubechies (2005), Joyce R. McLaughlin (2004) and Linda R. Petzold (2003).
The Kovalevskaya crater on the Moon is named in her honour.
Sofia Kovalevskaya has been the subject of two Russian film biographies.
Directed by Iosef Shapiro, starring Yelena Yunger, Lev Kosolov and Tatyana Sezenyevskaya
Directed by Ayan Shakhmaliyeva, starring Yelena Safonova, Vladimir Letenkov, and Natalya Sayov.
Speech by Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the Opening Ceremony of the "Science Tunnel" Science Exhibition in Moscow
Apr 10, 2013; BERLIN -- The following information was released by the Federal Foreign Office of Germany: Ladies and gentlemen, It is a great...