A not-so-mysterious woman

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By Roger Snodgrass

A research director with the National Center for Scientific Research in France thinks it’s time to recognize the contribution of a Los Alamos woman in solving a mathematical problem more than 50 years ago.

In a series of articles in the last few years and in a physics book he co-authored, Thierry Dauxois has identified the unsung woman whose maiden name was Mary Tsingou and he has taken up something of a cause on her behalf.

Locally, Mary Tsingou has been known by her married name, Mary Tsingou Menzel for 50 years. She still lives in Los Alamos with her husband John, not far from the scene of her accomplishment.

“I thought it was okay,” Menzel said in an interview Monday, when approached by Dauxois. “I kept saying it was perfectly all right.”

Tsingou’s name has been somewhat ambiguously associated with solving a central paradox that Dauxois argues led to non-linear physics and chaos theory in one direction and to computer simulations in another. They were two very important developments in physics at the end of the Twentieth Century.

The paradox is known as the Fermi-Pasta-Ulam problem and deals with the question of how a vibrating string propagates heat.

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