Ada Lovelace Day - Women Science Innovators

16 October 2012

Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, commonly known as Ada Lovelace, is a name that might not ring a bell at first, or at all. However, today is Ada Lovelace Day, an international occurrence established in 2009 to encourage and support women in Science, Technology and Engineering. Ada Lovelace, born in London in 1815, was the daughter of poet Lord Byron but unlike her father, rather than joining the literary elite circles of the time, she was pushed towards mathematical studies by her mother, a woman quite sceptic of poetic tendencies in consequence of Lord Byron's family home abandonment.

By becoming a member of London societies Ada befriended Charles Babbage, professor of Mathematics of Cambridge and the inventor of the Difference Engine.

Through a mutual collaboration and during the development process of Babbage's Analytical Engine, Ada's annotations on the project, called "Notes", described how the Analytical Engine could be programmed and gave birth to what many consider to be the first ever computer program.

The distinctive characteristic of the Analytical Engine, and that which has rendered it possible to endow mechanism with such extensive faculties as bid fair to make this engine the executive right-hand of abstract algebra, is the introduction into it of the principle which Jacquard devised for regulating, by means of punched cards, the most complicated patterns in the fabrication of brocaded stuffs. It is in this that the distinction between the two engines lies. Nothing of the sort exists in the Difference Engine. We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.

Also, her work on the project came to represent key findings for future developments in the technological field, such as computer-generated music.

Again, [the Analytical Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine . . . Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.                        ~ Ada Lovelace, from the "Notes"

Just recently a study conducted by researchers at Yale University concluded that Science professors at American universities widely regard female undergraduates as less competent than male students with the same accomplishments and skills. As reported by the New York Times, female professors were just as biased against women students as their male colleagues, and biology professors just as biased as physics professors — even though more than half of biology majors are women, whereas men far outnumber women in physics.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace and her achievements in a typically men-dominated field and by endorsing the cause of supporting women in technical fields of study might just encourage more girls to embrace science as a vocation, regardless of the gender-defined obstacles and barriers to tackle along the way, as no world is literally a men's world, science included.

Further references and associations supporting women in science:

Ada Lovelace Day

Association for Women in Science

Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and mathematics on the Air

Women in Science

Agora for Women in Scinece Community

Article sources: