Kovalevskaya Sophia Vasilyevna 
(03(15).01.1850–29.01(10.02).1891)


An outstanding Russian mathematician. ..
Born in Moscow. Her father, an artillery general Vasily Korvin-Krukovsky, served as chief of the arsenal. Mother, Elizabeth Schubert, was the daughter of F.F. Schubert
. Subsequently, Kovalevskaya said about herself: “I inherited a passion for science from my ancestor, the Hungarian king Matthew Corvin; love of mathematics, music, poetry - from his maternal grandfather, astronomer Schubert; personal freedom from Poland; from Gypsy-great-grandmothers - the love of vagrancy and the inability to obey accepted customs; the rest is from Russia”.  
When the girl was six years old, her father retired and settled in his family estate Palibino, in the Vitebsk province. A teacher named Malevich was hired to study with the child. The only subject to which Sonya at the first classes showed no special interest or abilities was arithmetic. Gradually, however, the study of arithmetic, which lasted until ten and a half years, became her favorite activity. Subsequently, Kovalevskaya believed that this period of study and gave her the basis of mathematical knowledge. She knew all the arithmetic so well, solved the most difficult tasks so quickly, that Malevich, before algebra, allowed her to study a two-volume course of arithmetic that was used at that time at the University of Paris. 
To develop his daughter’s mathematical abilities, his father hired another teacher, sea lieutenant A.N. Strannolyubsky. At the very first lesson in differential calculus, Strannolyubsky was struck by the speed with which the girl learned the concept of the limit and the derivative, “knew everything in advance”. 
In 1863, at the Mariinsky Women's Gymnasium, pedagogical courses were opened with the departments of natural-mathematical and verbal. Sophia and her sister Anna dreamed of going to study there, they were not embarrassed even by the fact that for this it was necessary to enter into a fake marriage, as they did not accept unmarried people. 
Vladimir Onufrievich Kovalevsky was found as “fiancé” for Anyuta. He agreed to marry, but only ... with Sophia Vasilyevna. He was 26 years old, Sofya - 18. 
Kovalevsky struck the imagination of a young lady. His life was more exciting than any novel. At sixteen, he began to earn money by translations of foreign novels for the booksellers of Gostiny Dvor. He surprised everyone with his memory and abilities. 
After passing the exam for the certificate of maturity, Kovalevskaya returned to Strannolyubsky again to study mathematics more thoroughly before going abroad. In 1869, the Kovalevskys left for Vienna, as there were geologists needed by Vladimir Onufrievich. But Sophia did not find good mathematicians in Vienna and decided to try her luck in Heidelberg. 
After all sorts of delays, the university commission allowed her to attend lectures on mathematics and physics. For three semesters of the 1869–1870 school year, she attended physics and mathematics courses with Kirchhoff, Dubois Reymond and Helmholtz, and worked in the laboratory of the chemist Bunsen, the most famous scientists in Germany. Professors admired her abilities and diligence. The then largest mathematician Karl Weierstrass petitioned the academic council for admitting Mrs. Kovalevskaya to mathematical lectures at the University of Berlin, but the “high council” did not give consent. At the University of Berlin, not only did they not accept women as “legitimate” students, but they even did not allow them to attend volunteers at certain lectures. I had to confine myself to private lessons with a famous scientist. 
Kovalevskaya studied the latest mathematical works of world scientists, did not bypass even the dissertations of young students of her teacher. From overwork, her health was overwhelmed, in preparation for redoing a poorly organized world, she did nothing to have at least a tolerable dinner. 
In the same period, her independent work in the field of integral and differential calculus began to appear, which found application in physics and mechanics. The winter of 1873 and the spring of 1874 Kovalevskaya devoted to the study “On the Theory of Differential Equations in Partial Derivatives”, which she presented as a doctoral dissertation. Work Kovalevskaya caused admiration of scientists. In it, the earlier work of the famous O. Cauchy was developed and the problem solved by Kovalevskaya became known as the “Cauchy – Kovalevskaya theorem”. She entered all the main courses of analysis. 
Short years of apprenticeship Kovalevskaya ended. The Board of the University of Göttingen awarded her the degree of Ph.D. in mathematics and the Master of Fine Arts "with the highest praise". 
In 1874, Kovalevskaya returned to Russia, but here the conditions for doing science were much worse than in Europe. By this time, the fake marriage has become real. In the autumn of 1878, the daughter of Kovalevsky was born. Kovalevskaya spent almost half a year in bed. Doctors lost hope of her salvation, but the young body won. 
It would seem that Kovalevskaya had everything for a happy life: a husband, a child, a favorite activity. But she was a maximalist in everything and demanded too much from life and from those around her. She wanted her husband to constantly swear to her in love, to give signs of attention, and Kovalevsky did not do this. He was just another man, keen on science as much as his wife. The complete collapse of their relationship came when the couple did not do their own business - commerce, to ensure their material well-being. 
Kovalevskaya and her daughter went to Berlin, and her husband went to her brother in Odessa. Nothing connected them anymore. “My duty is to serve science,” Kovalevskaya told herself. She took up the task, the solution of which the largest scientists committed themselves: to determine the motion of various points of a rotating solid body - a gyroscope. 
In 1883, she suffered another terrible blow. Kovalevsky, who was completely confused in his financial affairs, committed suicide. 
In 1884, Kovalevskaya was appointed professor at Stockholm University for a period of five years. She increasingly deepened into the study of one of the most difficult problems of the rotation of a rigid body, but yet another life shock shook her plans. In the spring of 1886, she received news of her sister’s serious illness. After a trip to Russia, nothing could return to their previous work. Kovalevskaya took up literary work. 
Almost three years passed before Kovalevskaya could return to the interrupted mathematical activity. In the problem of the rotation of a rigid body around a fixed point, she managed to find the fourth integral, which made it possible to solve the problem completely. Only Euler and Lagrange managed to do this. And so far, four algebraic integrals exist only in three classical cases: Euler, Lagrange and Kovalevskaya. The Paris Academy awarded her the Borden Prize. In the fifty years that have passed since the establishment of the Borden Prize, it was awarded only ten times, and even not completely, for private decisions. And before the opening of Sophia Kovalevskaya, this prize was given to no one for three years in a row. Due to the seriousness of the research, the prize at this competition was increased from three to five thousand francs. 
Kovalevskaya continued her work and for the following study on the rotation of solids, the Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded her the King Oscar II prize of fifteen hundred crowns. 
The hard work led to illness again. She had to interrupt mathematical studies, she again turned to literature. Literary stories about the Russian people, about Russia Kovalevskaya tried to stifle homesickness. 
In 1889, Kovalevskaya was elected a corresponding member at the physics and mathematics department of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She went to Russia in the hope that she would be elected a member of the academy to the place of the deceased mathematician Bunyakovsky, and she would gain the material independence that would allow her to do science in her country. In St. Petersburg, Kovalevskaya twice paid a visit to the president of the Academy, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich, who was very kind to the renowned scholar and kept saying everything, as it would be nice if Kovalevskaya returned to her homeland. But when she wished, as a corresponding member, to attend a meeting of the Academy, she was told that women’s attendance at such meetings was “not in the customs of the Academy”! More resentment, more insults could not inflict on her in Russia. She returned to Stockholm in a very depressed state. Soon, Sofia Kovalevskaya died of heart failure in the prime of her creative life. 
She was buried in Stockholm at the cemetery  Norra begravningsplatsen.   
Mountain and valley on the island of West Spitsbergen. Named in 1899–1901
 expedition members on the "degree measurement". On maps instead of "Kovalevskaya" wrongly indicated "Kovalevsky". 
Bay on the southwestern shore of the island Komsomolets archipelago Severnaya Zemlya. 
The name was given in 1952 by geologists Arctic Research Institute of Geology.

 

Return to the main page