It’s been an overwhelming morning as the Boston Magazine story I wrote about Van Morrison in Boston in 1968 went public. The reactions have been astounding and it only came out a few hours ago. I’m so glad it’s capturing people’s imaginations like it captured mine. There wasn’t much room in the article for additional images, so I’ve collected some here that I’ve found, taken, or were given by participants in my research. These should give you some terrific extra context for really diving into the world of the 1968 Boston/Cambridge music scene.
Please follow this Tumblr and @JahHills for more info on all of this as I get it. There is A LOT of material and interviews I compiled that fell on the editing room floor and I’d love to find a way to write more on the album and that time period.
Morrison and Peter Wolf in studio at WBCN.
Ace Recording Studios Then & now comparison of the location of Ace Recording Studio. Ace was one of the few professional studios in Boston at the time, and this is where producer Lewis Merenstein auditioned Van Morrison in 1968. At 10 Boylston Place, this is now the location of Estate dance club near Boston Common on the Emerson college campus. It’s a mere stone’s throw from where I type these words! I’d love to know more about Ace, but info is scant.
I do know it was owned and operated by two brothers by the last name of Yakus, and that things ended badly when Yakus family members sued each other over royalties of the song “Old Cape Cod.” Anyone know who to talk to about learning more about ACE or the family Yakus?
I’d like to specially thank Ryan Foley for being the first to locate that old Ace Recording Studios photo that I used above on the left. Ryan’s website “Throwing Pennies at the Bridges Down Below” which is an enormous resource on all things Van and Astral Weeks.
This is the closest I was able to target the location of where Van Morrison and Janet Planet lived in Cambridge in 1968. Using information from multiple interviews, I was able to pinpoint this intersection as VERY close to the spot. The building itself, I hear, no longer exists.
Here’s the back sleeve of Astral Weeks which features this poem by Morrison with plenty of Massachusetts locations name-checked. This was my first clue that perhaps this album had something to do with Boston. Van and guitarist John Sheldon played a show that summer in Hyannis, and I have a plausible theory about how that day’s events are reflected in this poem. I will save those details for a follow up piece to the Boston Magazine article, whatever form that may end up being.
Catacombs entrance This non-descript door nestled between a Subway Sandwich shop and a Thai restaurant on Boylston Street is the former entrance of the Catacombs nightclub— an underground nightclub open in the 1960’s— where several important people and stories intersect in Morrison’s Boston/Astral Weeks whirlwind summer. The location is now a Sound Museum rehearsal studio complex. I couldn’t find any pictures of the inside of the Catacombs. Are they out there?
This is courtesy of David Bieber who was a tremendous help in putting this story together. Here, we see a flyer for the infamous Van shows at the Catacombs. The use of “Controversy” at the end of his name was short-lived, and so interesting to me in light of the rest of the details of his life at that moment.
The Boston Magazine story ends just as Van leaves to go record the album in New York, but of course, for Astral Weeks, that’s where the story really begins. I hope to tell you all more soon.
Flight analysts are already trying to piece together what happened to Flight 9525, which just a few minutes after it reached its top cruising altitude, descended for a little under 10 minutes before it struck the earth. The AP has taken a look at what clues investigators will examine and the events they suggest:
• Breakup on contact or midair: “If the debris field is pretty compact, the plane most likely hit the mountains intact. If, it is scattered, the plane probably broke up midair.”
Flight 9525’s descent lasted eight to nine minutes and the aircraft was last in contact with French radar and traffic controllers at 10.53am local time, Germanwings’ Thomas Winkelmann said earlier today, laying out the few details we know so far about what happened.
Birlenbach says that Lufthansa is investigating whether it can bring relatives to the crash site. The logistics of such an operation would be difficult – it has been hard even to get investigators to the scene this afternoon.
She is asked about why the plane left late from Barcelona, but is unable to say why there was a delay of nearly 30 minutes.
Lufthansa is now giving a press conference, saying they are unable at this point to confirm all the nationalities of those on board the flight. There were 150 in total, 144 passengers, 67 of whom German.
“We have their names, we have of course the list” of passengers, Lufthansa’s Heike Birlenbach says, but they are working to verify who was on board with families. She says they cannot assume nationalities purely based on passengers’ names. Birlenbach is Lufthansa’s vice-president for sales and services Europe.
Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, and Mariano Rajoy Brey will visit the crash site tomorrow, France 24’s Christophe Bauer reports.
The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, says a black box has been found.
A regional official has given CNN’s Hala Gorani an idea of the scale of obliteration of the plane.
Regional official Gilbert Sauvan tells me no piece of debris in #germanwings crash is larger than a "small car."
The Guardian’s transport correspondent, Gwyn Topham, has been talking to experts about what might have caused the crash.
The airline said it could not give any reason why the plane crashed and added that it was too early to speculate on possible causes. The unverified flight data from plane tracking websites however appeared to rule out a large-scale explosion, with the plane apparently flying on relatively intact, or a midair stall, which would cause a much faster descent. Experts said planes would also be able to glide for longer in the case of total engine failure.
David Gleave, an air accident investigator and aviation expert at Loughborough University, said that based on the unverified data from plane tracking websites, “The descent appears to be consistent about 3000 ft a minute - not fast enough to be an explosive decompression, but it’s too fast if you were gliding. It appears to be a controlled descent.”
This is one of the first photographs to be released of the crash site. It shows a helicopter hovering above the mountains, on which can be seen countless small pieces of debris. The bleak image illustrates the scale of the task faced by the emergency response teams and why the French authorities have ruled out finding any survivors.
The mayor of Haltern. Bodo Klimpel, has confirmed that 16 students and two teachers from the Joseph-Koenig Gymnasium high school in the town, were on board the flight, returning from a week-long Spanish exchange trip.
Many of the families learned about what happened from the media before turning up at the school, said Klimpel.
There will be an internal assembly tomorrow and we need to wait for everything else. We need to have absolute certainty about what the investigation will bring.
We have received gestures of condolences from our twin towns, also from colleagues in nearby towns. The sympathy is very overwhelming.
The US state department has said it is saddened by news of the crash and offered its assistance in the investigation. It said it is reviewing whether any US citizens were on board.
Reuters has more on the distress call, an issue which has been causing confusion, with even Germanwings saying it was unsure whether one had been made, as it had received conflicting accounts. The news agency has spoken to the French aviation regulator, which seems to have contributed to the uncertainty:
Germanwings jetliner that crashed in the French Alps on Tuesday did not issue a distress call during its rapid descent, France’s aviation regulator said.
“The aircraft did not itself make a distress call but it was the combination of the loss of radio contact and the aircraft’s descent which led the controller to implement the distress phase,” a spokesman for the DGAC authority said.
This graphic starkly illustrates how the altitude of the plane dropped.
Meteorologist Eric Leister, from AccuWeather.com, has warned that conditions in the region where the search for the plane is ongoing are expected to worsen in coming hours.
The weather is going to be deteriorating near the crash site over the next 12 hours as a storm system moves into the region, producing rain and high-elevation snow.
Sixteen teenagers and two teachers from Haltern, a city in North Rhine Westphalia in western Germany, were among the passengers thought to have been killed in the plane crash, Germany’s biggest newspaper, Bild, is reporting, citing a spokesman from the city. The information could not be immediately confirmed. Sky is also reporting the news and says that the school did not want to comment at present.
The spokesman says that although today is a “sad day” for the airline, it can be proud of its standards. It would be premature to ground the fleet, and normal flight operations would continue.
Information about the nationalities of the casualties will only be announced when the airline feels it can do so “without any shred of doubt”.
On the question of whether a distress call was made from the aircraft, a spokesman says the airline has received conflicting reports.
We have contradictory information about that ourselves, from the air traffic controllers, and we are uncertain as to whether a distress call was issued at all.
It is very important that we do not engage in speculation … We need to get to the bottom of what happened as quickly as possible.
The Germanwings spokesman said the last routine check of the aircraft was yesterday in Düsseldorf. The captain had 10 years’ experience flying Airbus aircraft for Lufthansa and Germanwings.
We feel a deep feeling of sorrow vis-a-vis our passengers, the families ... our thoughts and prayers go exclusively to the victims. In parallel, we are going to work with the authorities to investigate [and] resolve the cause of the accident as quickly as possible.
Germanwings is giving a press conference. Two babies were on board, the company spokesman says.
The aeroplane left Barcelona at 10.01am and the destination was Düsseldorf. There were 144 passengers on board, two babies and six crew members.
At 10.47am it left its travel and cruising altitude ... and entered into a descent stage. This stage lasted for a total of eight minutes. The contact between the aeroplane and the French radar [air traffic control] broke off at 10.53 ... The plane then crashed.
Contrary to earlier reports, the authorities in France now say that no distress call was made by the pilot, Kim Willsher in Paris reports.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed her sorrow about the news, saying these were “hard hours”.
She said the German authorities have agreed to cooperate with the other countries affected.
This is a time and an hour of great sorrow and great grief. We should be thinking about people who have lost relatives and also friends.
Frances Perraudin, in the parliamentary lobby, sends details of David Cameron’s reaction to the plane crash. A spokesperson for the British prime minister said:
He has been informed of this tragic news of the aircraft that has been lost over southern France and he would wish to express how his thoughts are very much with the families and friends of all of those who were on that flight.
If there is any assistance or role that UK air accident investigators can play in response to this then of course the French and German forces will have our full support and engagement on that.
This is terrible news that has reached us from France. We are all stunned by this terrible catastrophe that has taken so many people. Our thoughts are with the victims and their relatives. They deserve our sympathy. They now need all possible support. Personally, and on behalf of German social democracy, I express my deep sorrow.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has cancelled all her upcoming appointments, according to the country’s largest newspaper, Bild. It said she had already spoken by telephone with her French and Spanish counterparts, François Hollande and Mariano Rajoy. She is due to make a public statement later today.
During the flight the Airbus was in contact with air control at Marseille. The message was “mayday, mayday, mayday” and the pilot requested an emergency descent, meaning ATC had to clear all air space below the route of the aircraft. Apparently, an emergency descent generally happens at a rate of 5,000ft a minute, but the Germanwings flight was descending at 3,375ft a minute.
Gerard Feltzer, an aviation expert, told BFM TV that the plane was already extremely low when it issued its distress signal and he imagined the pilots had tried to deal with the emergency before issuing their message, at which point it appeared they had already lost control of the aircraft.
The owner of a camping site in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence has told al-Jazeera that he heard the plane come down. Pierre Polizzi,owner of Camping Rioclar, said:
There was a loud noise and then suddenly nothing. At first I thought it came from fighter jets that often hold drills in the area.
The plane crashed just 2km from here, high on a mountain.
Just hours into his state visit to France, Spain’s King Felipe VI said he was cancelling his return trip to Spain. He was due to address France’s National Assembly tomorrow.
Pierre-Henry Brandet, spokesperson for the French interior ministry, told BFM-TV:
The aircraft debris has been localised, and we can only fear a heavy death toll. The first information from rescuers suggests that the number of survivors, if there are any, will be low, but until we have reached the site by land, we cannot say with any certainty. The rescuers are being taken in by helicopter.
It is a very snowy area, inaccessible to vehicles, but that can be flown over by helicopters.
The German government said it was sending air safety experts and its transport minister to the site of the plane crash and the foreign minister said his thoughts were with victims’ relatives.
“In these difficult hours our thoughts are with all those who must fear their relatives are among the passengers or crew members,” said the foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
This map shows the last known location of the Germanwings flight.
Ashifa Kassam, in Madrid for the Guardian, reports that French authorities have said there were 42 Spaniards on board.
The Catalan president, Artur Mas, is due to speak at 12:30 GMT.
The plane was on its flight path for just under half of its route distance and at cruising speed.
The transport minister has comfirmed that a distress call was made by the aircraft at 10.47am local time, while the plane was “at 5,000 feet and in an abnormal situation”. The crash happened shortly afterwards.
Ashifa Kassam, in Madrid for the Guardian, sent this update:
Spain’s airport operator, AENA, has confirmed that the plane left Barcelona at 8:55 GMT, a slight delay from its expected departure of 8:35 GMT. The spokesperson didn’t know the reason for the delay.
They’ve confirmed that there were Spanish nationals on board, but wouldn’t give a precise number. AENA also said it had designated a special room in Terminal 1 and 2 of Barcelona’s El Prat airport for family members and media.
Gilles Gravier, president of tourism in the Val d’Allos ski resort area, said nothing of the crash had been heard from the pistes in his village. He said 400 gendarmes, firefighters and emergency search and rescue personnel had been mobilised but the zone was “extremely difficult” to reach.
Florent Plazy, director of the local ski school ESF, confirmed the area was hard to access, even for mountain walkers.
The French president, François Hollande, has said no survivors are expected:
There were 148 people on board. The conditions of the accident, which have not yet been clarified, lead us to think there are no survivors ... The accident happened in a zone that is particularly hard to access.
An Airbus plane operated by Lufthansa’s Germanwings budget airline has crashed in southern France en route from Barcelona to Düsseldorf, police and aviation officials have said.
La Provence newspaper said the Airbus A320 was carrying 142 passengers, two pilots and four cabin crew, citing aviation officials.
We of course don’t know the reasons for the crash. We obviously fear that the 142 to 150 passengers and crew died today, given the conditions of this crash.
The slip stitch is a hand-sewing technique that is usually used to sew down the fold of a binding edge or a hem. It is nearly invisible! Here’s how to do it…
Tie a small knot at the end of a length of thread and thread it on a needle.
Bring the needle from the inside of the binding or hem’s fold and exit through its crease, leaving the knot tucked inside the fold. Take a tiny stitch directly across from the spot where the needle exited the fold.
Now pick up about ¼-inch of fabric, running right along the crease, as shown above.
Pick up another tiny stitch right across from the last exit point, then travel back through the fold, inserting the needle directly across from the tiny stitch.
Continue back and forth in this manner along the entire length of the binding or hem edge. Tie a knot at the end.
I love how sewing transforms a flat piece of fabric into something with shape and dimension and life! One second you have a bunch of oddly shaped pieces and then with nothing more than a few seams, you have a sleeve or a stuffed animal or… a pair of cozy slippers!
I made our Stacked Felt Slippers with three layers of Wollfilz’s thick and cushiony 5mm Precut Wool Felt. This extra sumptuous felt holds its shape so beautifully, it inspires a sculptural approach, just what I like!
I sewed all three layers of felt together with Londonderry’s Linen Thread for stitches that feel nice and sturdy. But best of all, in the end, you’ve sculpted/ sewn a pair of handsome handmade slippers, all with just a few simple seams! -Molly
The materials pictured above are for women’s size slippers. Listed here are materials for both women’s and men’s sizes, with the information for the men’s size in parentheses.
If you’d like to keep your finished slippers from sliding around too much, we have heard of people having success with a thin application of Non-Skid Rug Backing to the bottom of the soles.
Length: Small fits women’s US shoe sizes 6-7, Medium fits shoe sizes 8-9 and Large fits shoe size 10 and above
Width: One size fits all; toe is approximately 4 inches wide.
Length: Small fits men’s US shoe sizes 8-9, Medium fits shoe sizes 10-11, and Large fits shoe sizes 12 and above
Width: One size fits all; toe is approximately 4 1/2 inches wide.
NOTE: You can make these Slippers any length you like by cutting the back of the Sole pieces shorter or longer. Also, all the pattern instructions are the same for every size; just make sure to cut the correct size from the Template!
Using the Template, cut the following pieces:
From the Main Color Felt:
2 Soles. Transfer Points 1, 2, and 3 onto these pieces, using the fabric marker.
2 Toes. Transfer Point 2 onto these pieces. (Points 1 and 3 are the left and right points of the Toe piece.)
From the Contrast Color Felt:
2 Soles. Transfer Points 1, 2, and 3 onto these pieces, using the fabric marker.
Lay flat one of the Main Color Sole pieces, marked side up, then place the Contrast Color Sole on top, marked side up. Carefully align Points 1, 2 and 3 on the bottom Sole with the same Points on the top Sole.
Place the Toe on top of the two Soles, marked side up. Align Point 2 of the Toe with Point 2 of the Soles.
Using the Contrast Thread, take a small stitch at Point 2 through all three layers, taking care to keep the marks and edges lined up. Tie a knot on the top side and snip the ends. This is a basting stitch that you will take out later.
Take another basting stitch through all three layers at Point 1.
Take another at Point 3.
Add a few more basting stitches around the entire Toe, making sure that the edges of all three layers are flush at each basted point.
Tie a knot at the end of a 20-inch length of the Main Color Thread and thread it onto an embroidery needle. Starting at Point 3, insert the needle between the two Sole layers and bring it out at the top of the Toe, approximately 3/8 inch from the outer edge. This will hide the knot between the Sole layers.
To begin sewing you will probably want to put on your thimble. Take two stitches through all three layers at Point 3 in order to anchor this point of the Toe piece.
Pinching the three layers together with their edges flush, sew all three pieces together with a small running stich along the perimeter of the Toe, approximately 3/8 inch from the edge. Cut and pull out the basting stitches as you reach them.
When you reach the end of the thread length, tie a small knot on the bottom side of the Sole. Insert the needle through just the bottom layer and exit approximately ½ inch away from the entry point. Snip the thread end to hide the tail.
Stitch all the way around the toe in this manner. When you get to Point 1, take two stitches, to anchor this side of the Toe, as you did in the beginning.
Now using the Contrast Color Thread, sew the two layers of heel together in the same manner. Repeat for the second slipper and you’re all done!
About two months after the short-lived Great IPA Battle of 2015 between Lagunitas and Sierra Nevada comes another beer name kerfuffle involving a Northern California brewery and an unlikely opponent: the Bay Area Rapid Transit system.
This time, Truckee’s FiftyFifty Brewing Co. is the beer company in question. FiftyFifty is a craft brewery and restaurant located in Truckee, known for its tasty beers, many which carry whimsical names like Miso Hoppy, For Peats Sake Scotch Ale, and ahem, Donner Party Porter.
Specifically, FiftyFifty has made its name on its specialty of barrel-aged beers. Among those flagship barrel-aged beers is one dubbed Barrel Aged Really Tasty, or as it is labeled on the bottle: B.A.R.T.
The brewery describes the 10-percent alcohol beer as a “a rare one-off beer blended on the brewers whim. The most recent iteration contains a delicious blend of Totality Imperial Stout, Donner Party Porter, and our Summit Barleywine, aged in Oak Bourbon Barrels for 180 days.”
According to FiftyFifty owner/CEO Andy Barr, the B.A.R.T. beer has been a regular offering for several years. It has been sold at the brewery and bottled in limited production for California distribution; he has legal label approval in the state. But FiftyFifty is now ready to expand its current production (~1200 barrels per year) and start shipping over state lines, so as Barr puts it, “it was a time for a trademark.”
However, one party is not so keen on FiftyFifty’s trademark application for the B.A.R.T. label: Bay Area Rapid Transit, which obviously shares an acronym with the FiftyFifty beer in question. An opposition was filed.
“We were very surprised to get opposition from Bay Area Rapid Transit,” says Barr, pointing out that trains and beer are very different things, unlikely to cause consumer confusion. “Trademarks are for specific categories. You trademark it for beer, ale, porter.”
“The implication is that we came up with that acronym in order to monetize on the fame of Bay Area Rapid Transit — which is not true,” Barr says.
In fact, the name stems from an entirely different source: A dead dog.
Brothers Todd and Kyle Ashman were two early brewers at FiftyFity. They had a little old dog that ran around the brewery; the dog died at age 20. His name was Bart.
Simultaneously, as the barrel aged beers became a FiftyFifty signature, the brewers constantly referred to them as “really tasty” productions, according to Barr. The name was born: “It just worked too well to pay homage to this poor, deceased dog.”
BART Bottles. Photo: Facebook
Bay Area Rapid Transit carries BART trademarks in the realms of transportation, plus prints and publications. The company is claiming that FiftyFifty’s use of the BART name is “likely to cause and will cause dilution of the distinctive quality of (BART’s) Marks.”
In the opposition filing (available in full below) Bay Area Rapid Transit also takes strong measures to explain its greatness, pointing out that “BART has been featured in at least 14 motion pictures”; has had “overwhelming commercial success of its services”; and has experienced “widespread national media and entertainment renown.” More than a few BART riders may disagree with BART’s self-proclaimed “overwhelming success.” But we digress.
“Just as any agency or business does, BART routinely protects its name and registered trademarks,” notes Alicia Trost, Communications Department Manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. “Use of the BART name by unauthorized parties for commercial gain, whether or not they are in the rapid transit business, is a violation of trademark law, and something BART must protect itself against.”
Barr says he understands the need for companies to protect trademarks, but believes that the opposition just doesn’t seem reasonable, given that beer is a completely different realm from public transportation.
“It blows me away that it would degrade and demean anyone else’s brand value,” he continues, expressing concern about the next steps. “We’re not a deep-pocketed organization … So, the question is how do we stand up for ourselves?”
multitask suicide, john pretty much ordered overbey & me to go to bar tartine for dinner but we haven't yet
The kitchen at Haven. Photo: Alanna Hale
In my feature on the rise of family-style dining this week, I talked to chefs of restaurants old and new about the disappearance of meat-starch-veg main courses from Bay Area bistros. Eliminating mains in favor of shared platters a nationaltrend, to be sure — the roasted pig head to share is the plat du jour — but in the Bay Area, it seems more of a social shift than a fad.
While the article focuses on new restaurants, established ones like Bar Tartine and Haven have also shifted their menus recently to promote sharing — or rather, respond to the fact that many diners are already eating off every plate on the table.
At Bar Tartine, the shift has been a gradual one, says Cortney Burns, co-chef of the restaurant with Nick Balla. “Since we’ve been here we’ve tried to not have the classic appetizer-entree-dessert setup, mainly because it’s not how we like to eat,” she says. Their strategy on a typical day off: To hit the Russian markets in the Richmond and then cover a table in pickles, cheeses, smoked fish and other bites, devouring them throughout the day.
Five or six weeks ago, the chefs altered their “friends and family” meal to make it even more communal. (Eater just released a 60-second tour of a recent meal.) The $76 prix-fixe dinner now begins with a platter of 7 to 9 tiny bowls — warm vegetable dishes, a few scattered pickles and spreads, a poached egg in broth — and a heap of Tartine bread, which helps unite those strong flavors. The meze segue into a few salads or fish dishes, then to heartier meat and a few small plates with vegetables.
“It’s a way for us a way to showcase lots of different flavors all together, not just about people getting a more expensive menu (although we are running a business),” Burns says. The only downside: The dishwashers are protesting because they’re inundated with small plates, and the restaurant’s soap bills are going up.
Haven’s “breaking bread” course. Photo: Alanna Hale
As the East Bay Express reported at the beginning of the year, Daniel Patterson shut his Jack London Square restaurant in January to rearrange the space, then reopened a few weeks later with a different setup. The dining room shrunk from 80 to 45-50 seats, the bar and lounge were separated off more concretely, and Haven introduced a “larder” of preserves, jams and other craft foods for sale.
Chef Charlie Parker remained. For the lounge, his staff are preparing cheese and charcuterie plates as well as pastas. In the restaurant, diners can choose one prix-fixe meal per night — $45 for three courses on weekdays, $60 for four on weekends — picking only whether dinner will culminate in a meat or a vegetable course.
Part of the rationale, Parker says, was economic. “With minimum wage going up to $12.25 an hour, that plays a factor,” he says. He has been able to shrink both the kitchen and service staff considerably. But the new format also gives him more control over each plate he sends out, and diners don’t have waiters hovering over them, delivering plates and making speeches.”You can come with your friends and relax,” he says.
Diners share a communal bread course, then receive their main course — which changes every day — along with salads and side dishes sized for the entire party.
The one concession to family dining that Parker refused to give in on: The mains are individually plated. ”At [Cellar Door] in Santa Cruz, we did prix-fixe family style meals, with entrees on platters,” he says. “It never worked as well as we expected. People take too much or not enough. And we’d tend to have more waste. You’re going to a restaurant, you don’t want to make a mess.”
fun fact: I only know who noether is because I went on a nerve personals date with a fellow who was way into her
Emmy Noether was one of the most brilliant and important mathematicians of the 20th century. She altered the course of modern physics. Einstein called her a genius. Yet today, almost nobody knows who she is.
In 1915, Noether uncovered one of science's most extraordinary ideas, proving that every symmetry found in nature has a corresponding law of conservation. So, for example, the fact that physical laws work the same today as they did yesterday turns out to be related to the notion that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Noether's theorem is a deep insight that underpins much of modern-day physics and things like the search for the Higgs boson.
Even so, as one of the very few female mathematicians working in Germany in her day, Noether faced rampant sexism. As a young woman, she wasn't allowed to formally attend university. Even after proving herself a first-rate mathematician, male faculties were reluctant to hire her. If that wasn't enough, in 1933, the Nazis ousted her for being Jewish. Even today, she remains all-too obscure.
That should change. So it’s welcome news that Google is honoring Noether today with a Google Doodle on her 133rd birthday. To celebrate, here's an introduction to the life and work of a woman Albert Einstein once called "the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced."
Noether was brilliant — yet universities wouldn't hire her
Amalie Emmy Noether was born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, to a family of mathematicians. Her father, Max Noether, was a professor at the University of Erlangen. Her brother Fritz later proved worthy in the field of applied math.
Despite this fertile background, it wasn't obvious that Emmy could become a mathematician too. German universities rarely accepted female students at the time. She had to beg the faculty at Erlangen to let her audit math courses. It was only after she dominated her exams that the school relented, giving her a degree and letting her pursue graduate studies.
Her early work focused on invariants in algebra, looking at which aspects of mathematical functions stay unchanged if you apply certain transformations to them. (To give a verybasic example of an invariant, the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter is always the same — it's always π — no matter how big or small you make the circle.) Noether studied invariants for polynomial functions and made some impressive advances.**
Her work got noticed, and, in 1915, the renowned mathematician David Hilbert lobbied for the University of Göttingen to hire her. But other male faculty members blocked the move, with one arguing: "What will our soldiers think when they return to the university and find that they are required to learn at the feet of a woman?" So Hilbert had to take Noether on as a guest lecturer for four years. She wasn't paid, and her lectures were often billed under Hilbert's name. She didn't get a full-time position until 1919.
That didn't stop Noether from doing trail-blazing work in a number of areas, especially abstract algebra. Rather than focusing on real numbers and polynomials — the algebraic equations we learn in high school — Noether was interested in abstract structures, like rings or groups, that obey certain rules. Abstract algebra was one of the big mathematical innovations of the 20th century, and Noether was hugely influential in shaping it.
But perhaps Noether’s most consequential work came in another field: physics. In 1915, Einstein published his general theory of relativity, showing that gravity was a property of space and time, and the University of Göttingen was all abuzz with the the discovery. Hilbert asked Noether to apply her work on algebraic invariants to the equations in Einstein's theory.
In the process, Noether made a startling discovery of her own.
Noether’s theorem: How symmetry explains the world
The hunt for the Higgs Boson can be traced back to Noether's insight on symmetries. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)
To put it very simply, what Noether's theorems show is that anytime there’s a symmetry in a physical system, there’s a related law of conservation.
Here's an example: Let's say we conduct a scientific experiment today. If we then conduct the exact same experiment tomorrow, we'd expect the laws of physics to behave in exactly the same way. This is "time symmetry." Noether showed that if a system has time symmetry, then energy can't be created or destroyed in that system — we get the law of conservation of energy.
Likewise, if we do an experiment, and then do the exact same experiment again 20 miles to the east, that shouldn't make any difference — the laws of physics should work the exact same way in both places. This is known as "translation symmetry." Noether showed that translation symmetry leads to the law of conservation of momentum.
Finally, if we put our experiment on a table and rotate the table 90 degrees, that shouldn't affect the laws of physics, either. This is known as "rotational symmetry." But if rotational symmetry holds in a system, then angular momentum is always conserved. (That is, if you have a spinning bicycle wheel, it should spin in the same direction forever unless friction slows it down.)
This was a stunning revelation. Noether had linked concepts as different as time and energy. What's more, she had showed there was a deep connection between certain abstract algebraic structures — those that deal with symmetry — and physics. As David Goldberg details in his book The Universe in the Rearview Mirror, physicists soon began hunting for yet more symmetries.
In 1954, Chen Ning Yang and Robert Mills showed that other types of algebraic symmetries could describe the behavior of a vast array of particles and forces. In 1962, physicist Murray Gell-Mann was able to predict the existence of a new particle after simply studying symmetries written on a blackboard. (That particle was later confirmed by a particle accelerator.) In 1964, Peter Higgs used symmetries to predict the existence of the Higgs boson — a particle that was found in 2012 by the Large Hadron Collider.
The idea that purely mathematical structures could help find new particles in the physical world is astonishing, when you think about it. And it traces back to a discovery Emmy Noether made in 1915.
Noether fled Germany after the Nazis came to power
Noether continued doing vital mathematical work in abstract algebra and topology all through the 1920s and 1930s. But her career at at Göttingen was cut short when the Nazis came to power in 1932.
As a Jewish academic — and a woman at that — Noether didn't stand much of a chance in Nazi Germany. She was fired from her post, and, in 1933, she fled to the United States to teach at Bryn Mawr College. Unfortunately, her life was cut short. Less than two years later, she died at the age of 53, following surgery for an ovarian cyst.
Shortly after Noether's death, in 1935, Albert Einstein wrote a beautiful letter to The New York Times praising her genius and recalling fondly her time at Bryn Mawr:
In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraeulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since 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.
Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. One seeks the most general ideas of operation which will bring together in simple, logical and unified form the largest possible circle of formal relationships. In this effort toward logical beauty spiritual formulae are discovered necessary for the deeper penetration into the laws of nature. ...
Her unselfish, significant work over a period of many years was rewarded by he new rulers of Germany with a dismissal, which cost her the means of maintaining her simple life and the opportunity to carry on her mathematical studies. Farsighted friends of science in this country were fortunately able to make such arrangements at Bryn Mawr College and at Princeton that she found in America up to the day of her death not only colleagues who esteemed her friendship but grateful pupils who enthusiasm made her last years the happiest and perhaps the most fruitful of her entire career.
Today, Emmy Noether remains relatively unknown outside of math circles. In 2012, physicist David Goldberg told the New York Timesthat most of his colleagues and students had never heard of her: "Surprisingly few could say exactly who she was or why she was important."
It's about time to fix that.
** In her 1907 dissertation, for instance, Noether studied degree-four polynomials with three variables. She found that these polynomials had 331 independent invariants, and all other invariants depended on these. This was a mind-numbing feat of calculation — she later described it as "a jungle of formulas." She soon moved on to bigger, conceptual insights.
-- In 2012, Natalie Angier wrote a beautiful profile of Noether for The New York Times. She's got some great additional biographical details.
-- This paper by UCLA's Nina Byers offers an excellent history of Noether's conservation theorems and their importance to physics.
A visualization by Halcyon Maps (previously) shows a sunset scene with the Sun being replaced by other stars of various size and brightness. The visualization only takes size and brightness into account, since the reality is that liquid water and life on Earth would most likely not exist at the same distance from the other stars.
We’re traveling back in time in this week’s festival of free films on Hulu. With Period Pieces, you can get perspectives on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in movies from around the globe, including England, Japan, and France. Our . . .
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i really admire the design for these stairs and how they incorporate a wheelchair access ramp. in a world were barrier free design is essential to living a full and happy life, its amazing to see landscape architect Cornelia Oberlander has taken literal steps to design stairs AROUND a ramp, instead of the other way around.