E. Noether's Discovery of the Deep Connection Between Symmetries and Conservation Laws
Emmy Noether proved two deep theorems, and their converses, on the connection between symmetries and conservation laws. Because these theorems are not in the mainstream of her scholarly work, which was the development of modern abstract algebra, it is of some historical interest to examine how she came to make these discoveries. The present paper is an historical account of the circumstances in which she discovered and proved these theorems which physicists refer to collectively as Noether's Theorem. The work was done soon after Hilbert's discovery of the variational principle which gives the field equations of general relativity. The failure of local energy conservation in the general theory was a problem that concerned people at that time, among them David Hilbert, Felix Klein, and Albert Einstein. Noether's theorems solved this problem. With her characteristically deep insight and thorough analysis, in solving that problem she discovered very general theorems that have profoundly influenced modern physics.