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Two Mathematicians

found in: math; science; preK-2; 3-5; 6-8

Two picture books celebrate mathematicians who happened to be women, one in 17th century France during its Revolution and Terror, the other in 20th century United States. Sophie Germain developed mathematics to predict vibration patterns, useful in building bridges and other structures. Katherine Johnson used mathematics to help navigate rockets for NASA. Both faced barriers because they were women. In addition, Katherine Johnson was an African American born under segregation and when public education was not provided for African Americans beyond 8th grade.

Nothing Stopped Sophie: The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain (2018) written by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Barbara McClintock (Grades 1-5)

Sophie Germain was fascinated by mathematics in an age when young girls were not encouraged to think about such things. She was fortunate to have parents who let her pursue her interest. Still, she had to assume a male name when she wrote to established mathematicians and when she began to submit papers. In her 30s, the formulas she submitted to the Academy of Sciences predicting patterns of vibration were the first she signed with her own name.

Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 (2018) written by Helaine Becker and illustrated by Dow Phumiruk (Grades 1-4)

As a child, Katherine Johnson loved to count. She graduated from high school at 14 and from college with degrees in mathematics and French at 18. She taught elementary school, entered graduate school, raised a family, and eventually applied for and took a job with NACA, later NASA as a “computer,” one of a pool of women performing calculations. She worked on Projects Mercury and Apollo and, as this book tells, was instrumental in calculating Apollo 13’s safe return to Earth.

Sound and Vibrations:


Seeing Patterns in Sound Describes Ernest Chladni’s vibration demonstration witnessed by Sophie Germain. Includes a video (3:26)


Making Sound Waves  This Chladni inspired demonstration uses readily available materials and simple construction.

Weekend Projects: Visualizing Sound with a Chladni Plate  This video (4:46) gives step-by-step instructions for a more ambitious Chladni project. It would require a teacher or older student to build it.



Apollo 11’s Journey To The Moon, Annotated  (5:14)

How Did The Apollo Flight Computers Get Men To The Moon And Back?  (9:04) describes the four computers in the Apollo spacecraft and compares them to today’s.

Apollo 11: Four Things You May Not Know About The First Moon Landing  Includes information about Katherine Johnson and other “computers” who worked for NASA.


Traverse an Obstacle Course  One at a time, blindfolded students are guided by classmates through an obstacle course. This is a 2D simulation rather than the more complex 3D journey to the Moon but will give students an appreciation of the difficulties involved.


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