Olga Ladyzhenskaya’s 97th birthday is being celebrated by Google Doodle on Thursday. But before the late Russian mathematician—known for her contributions to fluid dynamics and solving partial differential equations—achieved high honors in the world of mathematics, Ladyzhenskaya had a rough start.
Born on March 7, 1922, Ladyzhenskaya learned algebra from her father Aleksandr Ivanovich Ladyzhenskii, also a mathematician, while growing up in the small down of Kologriv. When she was 15 years old, he was arrested by Stalinist authorities and executed for being an “enemy of the state.” That left a stain on Ladyzhenskaya’s family name and cost her admission to Leningrad State University, despite her academic success.
Ladyzhenskaya, along with her mother and sisters, sold clothing to support themselves. Ladyzhenskaya also began teaching math in a secondary school. She was later accepted to Moscow State University, where she earned her PhD. In 1955, Ladyzhenskaya became a professor of mathematics in the physics department of St. Petersburg University.
Ladyzhenskaya went on to write more than 250 papers, head the Laboratory of Mathematical Physics at the Steklov Mathematical Institute, and become president of the St. Petersburg Mathematical Society in 1990.
Among Ladyzhenskaya’s contributions to mathematics are her methods for solving partial differential equations, including Hilbert’s nineteenth problem. She was the recipient of the Lomonosov Gold Medal in 2002. Ladyzhenskaya’s work contributed to advances in weather forecasting, oceanography, aerodynamics, and cardiovascular science.
Ladyzhenskaya died in her sleep on Jan. 12, 2004, at the age of 81.
”She was also always a rebel and treated as one by the Soviet government,” Dr. Peter D. Lax of the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University told the New York Times at the time of Ladyzhenskaya’s death.
Today’s Google Doodle features a portrait of Olga Ladyzhenskaya, with the Navier-Stokes momentum equation written out. Ladyzhenskaya’s cause of death had not been determined.