Women are making waves in math. Although they have always contributed to the field—whether by founding the first university to offer a degree in mathematics, writing the first computer programs, or calculating courses in orbit and to the moon—2019 has been a particularly good year for recognizing and celebrating the contributions of women.
On May 21, Karen Uhlenbeck received the 2019 Abel Prize in Oslo from the king of Norway. She is the first woman to be awarded with an Abel, and she was recognized specifically for “pioneering achievements in geometric partial differential equations, gauge theory and integrable systems, and for the fundamental impact of her work on analysis, geometry and mathematical physics.”
The Norwegian government established the Abel Prize in 2002 to mark the 200th anniversary of mathematician Niels Henrik Abel’s birth. It “recognizes contributions to the field of mathematics that are of extraordinary depth and influence.” Unlike the Fields Medal, which is awarded to mathematicians younger than 40 “to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement,” the Abel has no age restriction (Uhlenbeck is 76) and looks at the whole of a mathematician’s work over a lifetime.
But more generally, from the spike in search terms related to “girls STEM” over the past few years to Popular Mechanics’ recent gallery of female mathematicians and scientists who have contributed to space exploration, we are seeing a strong interest in recognizing the discoveries of women in math—and a renewed interest in making sure we train the next generation of children to be prepared for STEM careers, no matter their sex or gender.
To celebrate this banner year for women in math, here is a snapshot of two great resources for supporting the mathematics researchers and students in your organization.
MathSciNet, maintained by the American Mathematical Society (AMS), “is an electronic publication offering access to a carefully maintained and easily searchable database of reviews, abstracts and bibliographic information for much of the mathematical sciences literature.” It adds upward of 100,000 items per year, classifying almost all with the Mathematics Subject Classification (MSC) system, which has been built with its partner zbMATH—the modern continuation of the old German Zentralblatt MATH service (see the next section). In MathSciNet, “[a]uthors are uniquely identified … enabling a search for publications by individual author rather than by name string.” MathSciNet is also retrodigitizing bibliographic records for articles dating all the way back to the early 19th century.
Zentralblatt MATH, now zbMATH, began in 1931 as a German and Danish collaboration called Zentralblatt für Mathematik und ihre Grenzgebiete (loosely, Central Journal of Mathematics and Related Areas), the purpose of which was to create bibliographies and indices for recent and ongoing math research. D.H. Lehmer writes that when the old Zentralblatt für Mathematik began rejecting Jewish editors in the late 1930s, some of those Jewish mathematicians immigrated to the U.S. and helped establish AMS’s Mathematical Reviews. These days, some 80 years later, zbMATH and the AMS share a happy relationship and work on the MSC.
zbMATH’s portal has many of the same features as MathSciNet, although with an emphasis on European rather than American research. It also hosts swMATH, a software hub and “novel information service for mathematical software … [with] open access to a comprehensive database with information on mathematical software and … a systematic collection of references to software-relevant mathematical publications.”
- zbMATH’s main search interface (it defaults to documents, but you can change the scope with the tabs above the search box): zbmath.org
- swMATH, the “information service for mathematical software”: swmath.org
Note that zbMATH’s classification interface goes straight to the 2010 MSC standards, whereas MathSciNet still offers a MSC2000 database as the first tab in its MSC search. Although zbMATH’s omission of the MSC2000 makes for a cleaner search design, MathSciNet offers more usability for those researchers who may be looking for a subject heading that has now been modified since the MSC2010 changes.
MathSciNet offers major search fields for publications, authors, journals, and citations; zbMATH goes beyond this to include search fields for software (swMATH) and formulae. The formulae search converts tagged text into LaTeX.
Math for Women, Men, and Whoever Might Do It
MathSciNet and zbMATH are major resources in the world of mathematics research, and perhaps too few librarians and information professionals are familiar with them. But these and other resources can help us to help mathematics students. (Try, for example, a simple web search for “math libguide” to pull up many great resources from academic libraries’ research guides.) Whether researchers come to us for biographical sources on Euler or to find new work on the use of partial differential equations in epidemiology, we need to be ready to help and readily familiar with math research.
To revisit women’s roles in the math field, consider this March 28 Forbes article by math and science journalist Rachel Crowell. In it, she calls attention to the continuing structural problems for women pursuing STEM careers, including that in 2017, “[t]he median salary for a woman mathematical scientist was $70,000, while the median salary for a male mathematical scientist was $81,000. In other words, for every dollar paid to men, women were paid about 86 cents.”
What can information professionals do to empower women in STEM? We can at the very least get familiar with the resources listed here and other tools to further enrich our services for researchers using mathematics—whether men, women, or those who identify in other ways.