Tatiana Afanassjewa (1876-1964): no talent for subservience
The name Paul Ehrenfest will sound familiar to many Dutch physicists. But who was Tatiana Ehrenfest-Afanassjewa?
A plaque in the almost windowless wall of the large, neoclassicist house at the end of Witte Rozenstraat in Leiden where the Ehrenfest couple lived, commemorates her as ‘His wife, Tatiana Afanassjewa who, ahead of her times, opened up this house for people and ideas’. Yet, Afanassjewa was far from a traditional professor’s wife, who enjoyed being a hostess for the mostly male intellectuals that came to the house with a mind full of ideas.
She was an independent and successful Russian mathematician and physicist in her own right and though she may have been ahead of her times by opening up the house, she was particularly ahead of her time with her ideas about thermodynamics and the didactics of mathematics. Recently discovered letters from Albert Einstein to Afanassjewa illustrate how much her ideas and insights were appreciated by acclaimed physicists, as well as being a token of Einstein’s and Afanassjewa’s long-lasting friendship.
Dr. Margriet van der Heijden was trained as a particle physicist who studied, among other subjects, the quark structure of protons and deuterons at CERN near Geneva. She then turned to science journalism and was science editor at the Dutch newspapers Het Parool and the NRC Handelsblad for many years. She now combines her work at AUC with working on a double biography of Ehrenfest and Afanassjewa and she still regularly contributes to the NRC Handelsblad.
Amsterdam University College
Science Park 113, 1098XG Amsterdam
|Convenor:||Dr. Maarten Boerlijst|