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The Mathematical Girl

Lawrence Bush
August 1, 2017

Ruth Lawrence, a child prodigy in math who at the age of 10 placed first among 530 candidates in the Oxford University entrance exam in that subject, was born in Brighton, England on this date in 1971. Her parents were both computer consultants, and her father gave up his work when she was 5 to homeschool her (the parents ultimately divorced). Lawrence completed her B.A. at Oxford in two years instead of three and became, at 13, the youngest person to graduate from that university in modern times. She then completed her doctorate at 17 and became a junior fellow at Harvard University at 19. Today she is associate professor of mathematics at the Einstein Institute of Mathematics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a researcher in knot theory and algebraic topology -- and an Orthodox Jewish mother of four. Of her upbringing, she says: “I now have a completely different view of life. Having a baby cannot possibly be compared with academic results. They are entirely different. It is miraculous, it is not like passing an O-level. . . . I suppose I might have liked my childhood to be different in some ways, but I do not want to judge my parents. . . . I was not in their shoes. I very much appreciate the effort my father put in. I am enormously grateful for what he did for me. I can see now that being a parent is very difficult.”

“Enjoy the subject, the beauty of the subject. My father brought me up with maths always around me. I always thought it was very beautiful.”--Ruth Lawrence

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.