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Photos: Cult-Heroine Mathematician Becomes A Work Of Art At New Chicago Hotel

By Stephen Gossett in Arts & Entertainment on May 30, 2017 3:55PM

Emmy Noether isn't a household name, even thought the cult-hero German mathematician ought to be. But at a new Chicago hotel, Noether—who battled persecution and sexism to help establish Einstein's Theory of Relativity—is not only well known, she's something of a patron saint.

A stunning installation honoring the under-sung Noether helps anchor the just-opened Hotel EMC2. (We are definitely, gloriously in math and science-geek territory here.) The hotel's aesthetic is all about the intersection of art and science—with dollops of whimsy—and a Noether homage seemed like an ideal choice for Scott Greenberg, president at SMASHotels, which spearheaded the new hotel.

Noether's symmetry theorem is considered a foundational text of contemporary physics and it girds research like that of the Higgs boson. But she had to fight to advance her work. She fled Nazi Germany after she was fired because of her Jewish heritage; and her work that validated Einstein's relativity was published with a male co-author despite it being her formulation.

Noether is a "great symbol and heroine of the hotel—intellectually and how she lived. Einstein recognized her as one of the most important scholars," Greenberg told Chicagoist. "She labored quietly" due to persecution, but "her curiosity drove her. That goes to the nature of what the hotel is about: science and art. Curiosity pulls us forward."

For the artwork, Greenberg reached out to Eugenia Cheng, a mathematician and Senior Lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Greenberg calls Cheng "the Neil deGrasse Tyson of mathematics" due to her knack for making complex concepts palatable for laymen.

Hotel EMC2 is now open at 228 E. Ontario St. There are science-meets-art designs throughout the space, including a zoetrope and science experiment-invoking chandelier "infusiary" that pours flavored liquor. But Cheng's Noether pieces seem like the star. "Those who have viewed [the installation] say, 'it will be a pilgrimage for people who love physics," Greenberg says.