Agnes Scott College

Alicia Boole Stott

Alicia Boole Stott

June 8, 1860 - December 17, 1940


Alicia Boole was the third of the five daughters of Mary Everest Boole. Despite having no formal education in mathematics, she still possessed a great power of geometric visualization in hyperspace. From the age of seventeen until her death, she remained interested in regular and semi-regular four-dimensional polytopes and made several important discoveries in this area. For example, she showed that there were 6 regular polyhedra in 4-dimensional space and made physical models related to her work.

Alicia began her mathematical training with her mother. She also was influenced by the amateur mathematician Charles Hinton, a school teacher interested in four-dimensional geometry. Between 1880 and 1895 Alicia worked alone on her geometric pursuits. In 1890 she married Walter Stott, an actuary in Liverpool, with whom she had two children. In 1895 she began her collaboration with Professor Peiter Schoute of the University of Groningen, and he also helped to publish some of her own work. According to H.S.M. Coxeter [2], "Mrs. Stott's power of geometrical visualization supplemented Schoute's more orthodox methods, so they were an ideal team." Stott published six papers between 1900 and 1910, three co-authored with Schoute. In her 1910 article on "Geometrical deduction of semiregular from regular polytopes and space fillings," she was the first person to enumerate and describe all 45 semiregular polytopes. After Schoute's death in 1913, the University of Groningen conferred upon Stott an honorary degree and exhibited her geometric models.

According to Polo-Blanco [5], it appears that Stott abandoned her mathematical work after Schoute's death in 1913. In 1930, however, she began a collaboration with Coxeter, at that time a graduate student at Cambridge University, in the investigation of a special kind of four-dimensional polytope for which she made models of its sections. This collaboration continued until her death in 1940.

You can read about Alicia Boole Stott and her work on regular four-dimensional hypersolids in a feature article by Tony Phillips, Stony Brook University, that is part of the AMS monthly essays on mathematical topics.

A more extensive discussion of Alicia Boole Stott's life and mathematics appears in "Alicia Boole Stott and four-dimensional polytopes", chapter 5 of Irene Polo-Blanco's 2007 dissertation on Theory and History of Geometric Models.

Listen to a story about Alicia Boole Stott from the show "Engines of Our Ingenuity" hosted by John H. Lienhard, M.D. Anderson Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston (transcript also available).

References

  1. Coxeter, H.S.M. "Alicia Boole Stott," in Women of Mathematics: A Biobibliographic Sourcebook, Louise Grinstein and Paul Campbell, Editors, Greenwood Press, 1987.
  2. Coxeter, H.S.M. Regular Polytopes, Methuen & Co., London, 1948, 258-259.
  3. Grosslein, Louise Roslansky. "Alicia Boole Stott," in Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary, Charlene Morrow and Teri Perl, Editors, Greenwood Press (1998), 242-246.
  4. Desmond MacHale. George Boole: His Life and Work, Boole Press, 1985.
  5. Polo-Blanco, Irene. "Alicia Boole Stott, a geometer in higher dimensions," Historia Mathematica, Vol. 35, No. 2 (May 2008), 123-139.
  6. Author Profile at zbMath
  7. Biography at the MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive

Photo Credit: The photo of Alicia Boole Stott is from the book George Boole by Desmond MacHale and is used with permission of the publisher, Boole Press, 26 Temple Lane, Dublin 2, Ireland (Tel. +353-1-6797655, Fax +353-1-6792469, Email 73173.1245@compuserve.com).