Hermann Klaus Hugo Weyl (1885-1955)

Hermann Weyl was one of the leading mathematicians of the twentieth century. He established a group-theoretic basis for quantum mechanics, developed the theory of continuous groups in terms of matrix representations, and investigated the distribution and density-properties of various classes of numbers.

Weyl's Ph.D. dissertation was written under David Hilbert at the University of Göttingen. After serving as chairman of mathematics at Zürich Technische Hochschule from 1913 to 1930, Weyl returned to Göttingen in 1930, where he filled the chair formerly occupied by Hilbert. Because of political troubles in Germany, Weyl emigrated to the United States in 1933, and he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, New Jersey, until retirement in 1952.

Emmy Noether, too, left Germany in 1933, and she, too, lectured at the Institute for Advanced Study on several occasions, traveling the short distance from her new home at Bryn Mawr College.

When Noether died in 1935, Hermann Weyl gave a memorial address at Bryn Mawr College. Weyl was not only a mathematician and an admirer of Noether, but also an accomplished writer. His address has since been published in its entirety several times (e.g., Auguste Dick's biography of Emmy Noether). Excerpts of Weyl's address follow:
With deep dismay Emmy Noether's friends living in America learned about her sudden passing away on Sunday, April 14... She was such a paragon of vitality, she stood on the earth so firm and healthy with a certain surdy humor and courage for life... And now suddenly—the end, her voice silenced, her work abruptly broken off.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

A mood of defiance similar to that expressed in this "Dirge without music" by Edna St. Vincent Millay, mingles with our mourning in the present hour when we are gathered to commemorate our friend, her life and work and personality.

Several pages into the address, Weyl describes Emmy Noether in Göttingen:
I have a vivid recollection of her when I was in Göttingen as visiting professor in the winter semester of 1926-1927, and lectured on representations of continuous groups. She was in the audience; for just at that time the hypercomplex number systems and their representations had caught her interest and I remember many discussions when I walked home after the lectures, with her and von Neumann...through the cold, dirty, rain-wet streets of Göttingen. When I was called permanently to Göttingen in 1930, I earnestly tried to obtain from the Ministerium a better position for her, because I was ashamed to occupy such a preferred position beside her whom I knew to be my superior as a mathematician in many respects. [Women were not easily promoted in German universities, and in spite of the recognition of her high level of mathematical production, Noether's title was nicht-beamteter ausserordentlicher Professor, or unofficial adjunct professor.]

I did not succeed, nor did an attempt to push through her election as a member of the Göttinger Gesellschaft der Wissenschafter [Göttingen Mathematical Society]. Tradition, prejudice, external considerations, weighted the balance against her scientific merits and scientific greatness, by that time denied by no one.

In my Göttingen years, 1930-1933, she was without doubt the strongest center of mathematical activity there, considering both the fertility of her scientific research program and her influence upon a large circle of pupils.

... She lived in close communion with her pupils; she loved them, and took interest in their personal affairs. They formed a somewhat noisy and stormy family, "the Noether boys" as we called them in Göttingen.

... No one could contend that the Graces had stood by her cradle; but if we in Göttingen often chaffingly referred to her as "der Noether" (with the masculine article), it was also done with a respectful recognition of her power as a creative thinker who seemed to have broken through the barrier of sex.

... She was not clay, pressed by the artistic hands of God into a harmonious form, but rather a chunk of human primary rock into which he had blown his creative breath of life.

Weyl's complete memorial address is reprinted in

Auguste Dick, Emmy Noether, 1882-1935, translated by H. I. Blocher, Birkhäuser, Boston, 1981.

The University of Göttingen before the Hitler years was often called the "Mecca of Mathematics." An excellent account of the mathematical environment in which Noether and her colleagues worked is

Constance Reid, Hilbert, Springer-Verlag, New York, 1970.

This book contains many excellent photographs of Göttingen mathematicians, including the image of Weyl shown here.

The life and work of Hermann Weyl is presented in the following publications:

K. Chandrasekharan (editor), Gesammelte Abhandlungen Hermann Weyl Springer-Verlag, New York, 1968.

C. N. Yang, R. Pentrose, A. Borel, K. Chandrasekharan, Hermann Weyl, 1885-1985: Centenary Lectures, including a list of the publications of Hermann Weyl, published for Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich by Springer-Verlag, New York, 1986.

M. H. A. Newman, "Hermann Weyl," Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society of London 3 (1957) 305-328. See also Newman's article of the same name in Journal of the London Mathematical Society 33 (1958) 500-511.

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