Heard of Ada Lovelace?
Of the dozen or more people I’ve quizzed on this over the past few days, only two knew the name and neither could say exactly who she was or what she was famous for. Upon being informed that she is widely considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, all were surprised… Here follows a quick crib sheet on the lady herself:
Augusta Ada King (née Byron), born in 1815, was actually the daughter of Lord Byron, although she never knew him as he died when she was eight months old. Young Ada was always fascinated by machines and adored mathematics, science and logic and was mentored by Mary Sommerville, another brilliant female mathematician. After meeting and befriending Charles Babbage and learning about his Analytical Engine, Ada offered to translate an Italian document pertaining to the machine. She not only translated it but was inspired to add her own set of notes, within which was contained the first ever computer program; these same notes inspired Alan Turing in his creation of the early computers in the 1940s. Her death aged 36 from uterine cancer was truly a tragic loss of potential, as she was never able to bring her many fantastic ideas – including a mathematical model of the brain and its thought processes – to fruition.
This is only the briefest of brief delves into the life of a fascinating figure who continues to inspire women and girls in the fields of maths and science to this day. Gender imbalance continues to be prevalent in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, both in the UK and many other countries worldwide. Keeping girls engaged in these traditionally male-dominated disciplines is a real issue and one that is greatly helped by the presence of role models. How many times have you heard a woman declare, almost proudly, that she ‘just can’t do’ maths? Not the kind of attitude we want the women of tomorrow to grow up with.
I urge you to check out the official Ada Lovelace Day website at www.findingada.com and get involved somehow, even if it’s just to spread the word about the day and its significance. Do some calculations! Blog about your favourite lady scientist (mine right now is Jocelyn Bell Burnell, only partly because of her awesome name).
Happy Ada Lovelace Day, one and all!
Join the Wikipedia edit-a-thon to raise representation of women in STEM fields on Wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Meetup/Ada_Lovelace_Edit-a-thon_2013_-_Brown