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A beautiful mind (and a beautiful face)?

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Lecture Theatre 144, Huxley Building

Imperial College London

South Kensington Campus

London

United Kingdom

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Join us for an early Women@Imperial week talk! We have a great young speaker telling a fascinating story of what the culture thinks female scientists are supposed to look like. Coffee, tea, pastry and discussion afterwards in the Huxley Common Room.

Title: A beautiful mind (and a beautiful face)? How appearance has shaped perceptions of female mathematicians

Speaker: Eva Kaufholz (University of Hamburg)

Abstract: Physical appearance is described in portrayals of scientists of all periods and both sexes. But it is rarely considered as important an aspect as in the case of the mathematician, author and journalist Sofya Kovalevskaya (1850-1891).

For more than a century, depictions of her looks have covered a wide range of appraisement, describing her both as rather ugly, a ravishing beauty, and everything in between. Moreover, her beauty (or lack thereof) is often considered a pivotal issue in her vita and for her scientific career in particular. The theory of the “bombshell mathematician” also gave rise to a number of rumors, which proved to be as persistent as they are wrong.

This presents the scope of descriptions of Kovalevskaya’s looks from the very first biographical accounts to her portrayal in modern literature, by highlighting some of the most influential examples in their historical context.

In her talk, Eva Kaufholz will show that the discrepancies concerning the assessment of Kovalevskaya's appearance, as well as the significance attributed to it, are mostly due to changing assumptions about women’s aptitude for mathematics.

Moreover, the prejudices raised and established in these discussions not only played a decisive role in shaping contemporary perspectives on female scientists and the way they are supposed to look. They influenced modern research of gender differences in creativity and innate aptitudes for mathematics. Eva will also discuss how these stereotypes, both old and new, might contribute to the gender-gap in STEM subjects, by showcasing science as an unsuitable or unattractive career for young women.

Bio: Eva Kaufholz studied mathematics and history of sciences at the University of Hamburg. She iscurrently writing her Ph.D. thesis on the reception of Sofya Kovalevskaya at the turn of the century under the supervision of Prof. David E. Rowe at the Johannes-Gutenberg-Universität in Mainz.

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Lecture Theatre 144, Huxley Building

Imperial College London

South Kensington Campus

London

United Kingdom

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