#STEAMspotlight: Girls, Math and Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Written by Emily Rosenbloom, Marketing & Communications Intern.
#STEAMspotlight is a series highlighting past and present STEAM pioneers—the scientists, techies, engineers, artists and mathematicians who continue to inspire future generations. First up? Maria Gaetana Agnesi!

Maria Gaetana

May 16 marks the birthday of Maria Gaetana Agnesi, an 18th century Italian mathematician and philosopher. A true STEAM pioneer, Maria is recognized as the first woman in the Western world to achieve a reputation in mathematics. The first-ever female mathematics professor (and the second woman to ever be granted professorship at a university), Maria is also known for discovering the Witch of Agnesi. The Witch of Agnesi isn’t a witch, of course. It’s a formulation of the cubic curve—a cubic curve is a special algebraic curve.

Witch of Agnesi

Among her many achievements is Maria’s two-part volume of “Analytical Institutions for the Use of Italian Youth”—one of the earliest developments of calculus. In it, the language is simple and clear, partly because it was originally written to help her brothers learn math (and she had a lot—Maria was the oldest of 21 children). And let’s not forget, a nine-year-old Maria published a Latin discourse advocating for the higher education of women. Nine. Years. Old.

Without a doubt, Maria paved the way for many women in mathematics. While it was clear that Maria was extremely smart, part of her success is attributed to her father’s support. Her father, mathematician Pietro Agnesi, strongly encouraged his daughter’s interest in mathematics from a very early age.

And that is why stories like Maria’s are so important.

No child is born disliking math. As far as aptitude is concerned, there is no difference between boys and girls in math performance. The difference is cultural. Parents, teachers, toy makers and the media directly influence a girl’s attitude toward math. This influence extends far beyond childhood, too—we’ve seen troubling (and troublingly recent) articles and statistics to back this up.

At Thinkery, one of our key values is inclusion. We welcome everyone, boys and girls of all ages, to experiment and explore in STEAM subjects. It is part of our mission to make every facet relevant and accessible to all, and we are dedicated to providing engaging programs that promote a love of math from an early age. In fact, we’ve got two brand new math-focused exhibits heading to Thinkery this summer.

This summer, math makes its way to Our Backyard! Transform simple lines into 3D designs and build a geometric sculpture big enough to climb inside with Dowel Design. With Knitting Around, be part of a summer-long collaborative knitting project to create a unique seating installation.

Today, we celebrate Maria Gaetana Agnesi for her mathematical accomplishments and perseverance in pursuing what fascinated her—math. We’d also like to acknowledge her father for supporting her every step of the way.

Get involved!

We love the Girl Scouts Research Institute’s five tips for engaging girls in STEM subjects.

  • Girls are interested in STEM! Talk to them like they are.
  • Encourage girls to ask questions about the world, experiment, and problem solve. Get girls involved in activities that will foster their STEM skills.
  • Educate yourself about STEM opportunities and show girls they can achieve their goals through STEM careers.
  • Expose girls to experts and mentors in STEM fields.
  • Develop girls’ confidence and their “inner resumes” so they’ll have what it takes to become STEM experts.
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