To be named as a “Hero of Uzbekistan” is to be awarded the highest national honour in that country. Recently, Muhabbat Sharapova, one of the country’s top mathematicians, received the award – not for her mathematical prowess, but because she has turned down job offers from many leading universities and institutions in favour of remaining a maths teacher in her small home town.
In an interview for the BBC’s 100 women initiative, she says: “Mathematics is the mother of all sciences.” What does she mean by that? Quite simply that, without mathematics, no science could exist except at the very simplest, empirical level. You need statistical techniques to gather data, and then complex formulae to analyse the data. Then, understanding and explaining scientific phenomena which have been observed requires algebraic analysis, often to the highest levels. But mathematics is also required for prediction: for example, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and his theory of gravitational waves, existed only as mathematical predictions a long time before any observational verification was possible.
Mathematics and Physics have a particular affinity, but no scientific endeavour or area of knowledge can be contemplated without associated mathematics. Climatology, chemistry, human biology, astronomy, computer science, electronics… and mathematics is also vital to many non-scientific disciplines, such as economics, engineering, physical geography, architecture, anthropology, and creative areas such as design, music, art. Muhabbat Sharapova says: “If you do well in mathematics, you will be good at all other subjects.”
But this doesn’t mean that mathematics is purely a “service” subject, only useful when applied elsewhere. It is at the top of the tree of knowledge and needs no other subject to complement it or define it. Its theorems, methods, proofs and conclusions all exist within the subject itself, without even needing a physical universe to refer to for verification. “You cannot find”, says Muhabbat, “the beauty and charm that maths has in any other subjects.”
So why did she decide to remain a teacher? To find out, listen to her interview here.