Who Was Olga Ladyzhenskaya? Facts About The Famous Russian Mathematician Celebrated in Today's Google Doodle

On Thursday, Google celebrated pioneering Russian mathematician Olga Ladyzhenskaya, known for her influential work on partial differential equations and fluid dynamics.

Her work on 19th-century “Navier-Stokes equations” helps meteorologists figure out the path of storm clouds, among many other uses.

The mathematician was born in Kologriv—a small town in the west of Russia—on March 7 1922, months before the Soviet Union was founded. Her math teacher father fuelled her interest in the academic subject, but he was arrested in 1939 and ultimately killed.

In the late 1930s, the Soviet Union persecuted and killed hundreds of thousands of its own people. Those perceived as opponents of Joseph Stalin were targeted in a time of feverish political paranoia.

Because of her father's execution, Ladyzhenskaya could not enroll in Leningrad State University after finishing secondary school. The budding mathematician eventually attended Moscow State University after teaching at a high school for several years.

After graduating from Moscow State in 1947, she went on to attend Leningrad State as a graduate student, according to an obituary published by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). It was here that she defended a doctoral dissertation focusing on partial differential equations, the society reported.

In 1953 she defended her Doctor of Science thesis at Moscow State University, developing her work on partial differential equations.  

The next year, she started working at the Leningrad Branch of the Steklov Mathematical Institute, which was later renamed the St. Petersburg branch. She was head of the institute’s Laboratory of Mathematics for almost 40 years, from 1961 to 1999.  

Influential in the Leningrad Mathematics Society—which became the St. Petersburg Mathematics Society—she served as vice president in two stints: from 1959 to 1965 and from 1970 to 1990. Ladyzhenskaya eventually presided over the society from 1990 to 1998, according to SIAM.

She was a member of several other prominent academic societies, including the Russian Academy of Sciences. She was a foreign member of several national organizations, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, which she joined in 2001.

Although her work was highly regarded, it was difficult for Ladyzhenskaya to travel internationally during the Cold War. According to SIAM, she did not leave the Soviet “sphere of influence” for 30 years after attending the International Congress of Mathematicians in London in 1958.

Outside of math, Ladyzhenskaya liked art, poetry, literature, music and animals, SIAM reported. She loved to feed seagulls and watch squirrels frolic and even asked to see a wild skunk on a trip to the U.S.

The mathematician died in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2004 at the age of 81. In a New York Times obituary, New York University  mathematician Peter D Lax said “She was also always a rebel and treated as one by the Soviet government.”

In her SIAM obituary, academics Max Gunzburger of Florida State University and Gregory Seregin of the Steklov Institute of the Russian Academy’s St. Petersburg Branch, described a brilliant mathematician, who dominated gatherings “not through bluster and noise, but by virtue of her genius, will, charm, and charisma.”

Olga Ladyzhenskaya File photo: The skyline of St. Petersburg, Russia, is pictured in this undated image. Getty Images

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