The Greatest? Noether on Symmetry and Conservation Laws

By cjohnson | January 9, 2006 1:48 am

See here for the voting procedure, and background.

E. Noether, “Invariante Variationsprobleme,” Nachr. v. d. Ges. d. Wiss. zu Göttingen 1918, pp235-257.

It’s often forgotten just how central symmetry is in modern physics. This is the paper that gave us the tools to make symmetry work for us in a modern context. Will the punters recognize their debt to Emmy Noether and push her all the way to gold? We shall see. See this site for links to English translation.

Make one comment, which will be your vote. (Any other comments from you on this thread will be deleted.) Feel free to tell the world what this paper means to you…. and why you voted for it over the others….. Or you can just make a comment that registers your vote, making whatever noise you want!

Voting ends 9:00pm, Jan 16th Pacific Standard Time.


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Science
  • Eugene

    Noether’s theorem wins.

    Nothing like having my mind blown up when I see the origin of conservation laws.

    Besides, she’s a girl and my computer hostname is also named noether.

  • antti rasinen


  • Aswin

    Ah..! The first vote had to be from me.. right?
    Great that you included this!
    To me, this remains one of the central reasons why physics is so beautiful.

  • Nils

    Not that I would understand a word of the paper (though physicist, though being born were Emmy Noether was born), but this is for me one of the most elegant and interesting theories. And it remebers me that physics actually is beautiful, as Aswin said.

  • Kristin

    I used to have some small degree of understanding of this. But I’m going to vote for this one, because this is such a powerful mathematical tool applicable to physics. Plus, being an artist and all, the notion of beauty in symmetry is deeply seductive to me.

  • Uncle Al

    Noether! Not only because she derived rigorous (mathematical symmetry)-(conserved property) linkages validated by empirical observation,

    but also because Noether’s two theorems allow a loophole for non-conservation of angular momentum consistent with 400+ years of physics observations. That is exciting! Somebody should look.

  • Matt B.


  • Jocelyn

    So pretty.

  • Michele L.

    I just remember the first time I read Noether’s theorem, it gave me the chills… so simple so beautiful. It certainly gets my vote.

  • Pingback: Aswin’s Blog » Noether’s theorem()

  • prosaica

    I read as a high school student that time invariance causes energy conservation, translation invariance causes momentum conservation, and so on. I was totally fascinated.
    Then I grew up to be a mathematician, and now earn my daily bread using, among other things, Noether’s beautiful commutative algebra results. She’s just great.

  • ste


  • Tim D

    If it’s not too late to vote, I’m casting mine for Noether and her theorem. It was a close call between Newton (the vote of the past) and EPR (the vote of the future). But this wins because learning about this theorem in grad school was a big “wow!” moment for me, and because the notion of symmetry was so important for both great 20th century physics theories (GR & QM/FT).

    Of course, 100 years in the future we might be having discussions like this on super-fast quantum computers and we’ll all be praising EPR for (indirectly) pointing the way. Who knows?

  • skywalkthisway

    Newton may have started it all, but this paper does a lot to tie our understanding of physics together.

  • NL

    It’s all about being *modern*, and *universal*. It’s also about (unfortunately) being restricted to theory…but given constraint, this is it.

    Note I don’t consider Newton a true candidate in this discussion.

  • Pingback: The Greatest Physics Paper! The Result | Cosmic Variance()

  • AAL

    Noether’s paper shows, quite simply, that the universe is not legislated. It runs on symmetry. To me, this is the apex of human thinking.


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