09 October 2018

Ada Lovelace Day: Celebrating Women in STEM

Intro Copy

The world’s first computer programmer was a woman. Or so Ada Lovelace is often called. Long before the advent of the modern-day computer age, Ada Lovelace envisioned the “general-purpose” computer. A woman born of privilege, she was a scientist and a mathematician, the passion for which was emboldened by her mother, a mathematician herself. Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 to Anne Isabella Milbanke and Lord Byron, the Romantic poet. Her father left the family when Ada was one month old, never to see his daughter again. Seeking to prevent Ada from inheriting her father’s excessive and artistic personality, Ada’s mother encouraged her love of math, science and logic. In spite of her mother's protestations, Ada's creative and imaginative side also flourished into a gift for combining science and art -- poetical science. At age 12, she visualized a steam-powered flying machine attached to a horse that would carry it and its rider into the air. She called it Flyology. It was Ada’s introduction to Charles Babbage in 1834 that would change her life. At the time, Babbage had designed a calculator called the Difference Machine and was working on a more sophisticated design called the Analytical Engine. Although Babbage's Analytical Engine was never built, Lovelace's writings about its potential for computing by focusing on the software and not the hardware earned her the recognition of the first computer programmer. She wrote an algorithm for the Analytical Engine that could calculate to the seventh Bernoulli number. She realized that the machine could do more than just calculate numbers and data.  It could also discern symbols and graphics and be used to design art and music. Today is Ada Lovelace Day. It is a day that honors Ada’s life and accomplishments by celebrating and supporting women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields. More importantly, it empowers future generations of young women who aspire to STEM careers and highlights those "unseen" women in STEM whose achievements may have gone unnoticed. Although women are 50 percent of the workforce, they are underrepresented in STEM occupations, comprising only 26 percent. It is still common for young women to be discouraged from considering a STEM career as the notion remains that science and technology are fields for men, and even more harmful, the bias that men are smarter than women in the sciences. Despite these statistics, just last week two women were awarded Nobel Prizes for their work in the sciences: Frances Arnold (Chemistry) and Donna Strickland (Physics). It took a century before Ada Lovelace's work in computing was rediscovered by computer pioneer Alan Turing. Almost 200 years after her accomplishments, Ada Lovelace continues to be a role model for young women who have a passion for math and science. Her work and the work of women in STEM today teaches girls that science, technology, engineering and math are cool. Here are some other women in STEM your students should know. eLibrary's Research Topics will help them to learn more about the life and work of these and many other known and unknown women scientists, mathematicians and engineers. They will be encouraged and empowered by what they discover. Marie Curie Rosalind Franklin Grace Hopper Katherine Johnson Barbara McClintock

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