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Hypatia of Alexandria was the very first female to make a substantial contribution to the development and growth of mathematics.

Who is she? Hypatia was the daughter of the philosopher and mathematician of Theon of Alexandria and it is somewhat certain that she studied mathematics under the guidance of her father. It is remarkable that Hypatia became head of the Platonist school at Alexandria in about 400 AD. There she lectured and taught about mathematics and philosophy, in particular teaching the philosophy of Neoplatonism. Hypatia based her teachings on those of Plotinus.

Plotinus taught that there is an ultimate reality, which is beyond the reach of thought or language. The object of life was to aim at this ultimate reality, which could never be precisely described. Plotinus stressed that people did not have the mental capacity to fully understand both the ultimate reality itself or the consequences of its existence.

Iamblichus distinguished further levels of reality in the top levels beneath the ultimate reality. Hypatia taught these philosophical ideas with a greater scientific emphasis than earlier followers of Neoplatonism. All commentators described her as a charismatic teacher.

Hypatia came to symbolise learning and science, which the early Christians identified with paganism. One of the most famous pupils is Synesius of Cyrene who was later to become the Bishop of Ptolemais. Many of the letters that Synesius wrote to Hypatia have been preserved and we see someone who was filled with admiration for Hypatia's learning and scientific abilities.

Hypatia was a friend of Orestes and this, together with prejudice against her philosophical views, which were seen by Christians to be pagan, led to Hypatia becoming the focal point of riots between Christians and non-Christians.

A few years later, according to one report, Hypatia was brutally murdered by the Nitrian monks who...