Ada Lovelace, born in England in 1815, was the first computer programmer. Growing up, she was a sickly child, home-schooled in a variety of subjects, including mathematics and astronomy. She invented a steam-powered flying machine at the age of 12. When she was 17, she met Charles Babbage – a mathematician and mechanical engineer who was working on a clockwork calculating machine (initially the Difference Engine, then the Analytical Engine) – to produce error-free logarithmic and trigonometric tables, which could be use by anyone from navigators to powered loom designers.
Babbage’s notes about his Analytical Engine were expanded, corrected and published by Lovelace. She saw the full potential of the machine more than he did. She wrote “I want to put in something about Bernoulli’s Number, in one of my Notes, as an example of how an explicit function may be worked out by the engine, without having been worked out by human head and hands first.”
Ada died on 27 November 1852, aged just 36 years old, having never been able to test her theories on the actual Analytical Engine, as it was not built. But her ideas found their way into modern computing via Alan Turing. During the Second World War while working on decoding German communications, Turing discovered Lovelace’s notes and they helped to shape his thinking.
It’s that time of year again – when we celebrate Women in Science! Today (Tuesday 10 October 2017 ) is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is to celebrate women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
This year I’m featuring pioneers of science in New Zealand. From the nation’s very beginnings, these women classified and preserved our unique flora and fauna, made incredible discoveries, and improved the health and wellbeing of future New Zealanders.
“…it is to be regretted that, despite the fact that Man cannot replace them, the appalling destruction of our unique native birds and forest continues to this day.”
(from New Zealand Scientists : Pioneer Women: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952) : Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979) : Muriel Bell (1898-1974) : Betty Batham (1917-1974) : Trends in their life and science. 1989: Women Into Science Education. Perrine Moncreiff, p.2.)
Moncrieff wrote articles on bird migration, protection, the endangered South Island Robin, and reaction of animals to the Murchison Earthquake (1929).
In 1974 Pérrine was awarded the Order of Oranje-Nassau by the Netherlands. Abel Tasman, who first discovered New Zealand, was from Holland, and the Dutch had sponsored the park. In 1975 she was honoured as Commander of the British Empire, but sadly she wasn’t recognised by the scientific community.
Ellen Blackwell lived in New Zealand long enough to collaborate with Robert Laing on the book; Plants of New Zealand. She travelled the country with Robert and her brother Frank, researching and photographing native plants, later writing a large part of the text for their book.
As well as describing the pine, palm and lily families of New Zealand flora, Blackwell’s readable style included snippets of local culture and legend:
“The reader was given advice on the preparation of the bracken rhizome for eating, the suitability of matai wood for ballroom floors, how to use nikau palm in the construction of huts and supplejack for ropes and baskets.” (Ibid. Ellen Blackwell p.3.)
Plants of New Zealand refuted some previously held ideas on the Lancewood species as well as the nature of mangroves. She identified that their ‘shoots’ were actually aerial roots.
Ellen’s large part in the creation of the book was largely ignored and although some went in to bat for her, she was uncomfortable with publicity and distanced herself from the controversy.
Muriel Bell, born in Murchison, is known for starting the programme for Free Milk in Schools in 1937.
Muriel studied medicine at Otago University and stayed on to research human metabolism, gaining a doctorate in 1928. She became a lecturer there in 1935. In 1940 she was appointed Director of the Medical Research Council’s Nutrition Research Department, and Nutritionist to the Department of Health.
During World War Two, when there were food shortages, Muriel consulted on diet and low cost meals. She found a source of Vitamin D in fish oil, and devised a rosehip syrup to supplement Vitamin C for children.
Muriel also discovered, when implementing the free milk in schools programme, that exposure to the sun destroyed vitamin C and riboflavin (vitamin B2) in milk. Covered trucks were then used to deliver it. She discovered that iodine is linked to healthy thyroid function, and that it isn’t present in New Zealand soil. So she introduced iodised salt.
She found a link between fluorine and healthy teeth, campaigning for it to be added to tap water, and researched links between cholesterol and heart disease.
Elizabeth Batham was born in Dunedin. Interested in the sea and its biology from childhood, she was an accomplished artist and photographer at school. She studied plankton and sea life in Otago Harbour for a Bachelor of Science in botany and zoology at Otago University.
After gaining a Ph.D on sea anemones at Cambridge in England, Batham took up the first role of Director at the Portobello Marine Biological Station in Otago, turning it into the highly respected research facility it is today; offering international study and courses for school students.
In 1962 Elizabeth was made one of only five female Fellows of The Royal Society of New Zealand. She was so dedicated that she would row to work when the ferry wasn’t working, and would dive for so long she often ran out of air.
Politics, administration and a male team of scientists, threatened by a female boss, made it difficult for Batham to manage the growing facility at Portobello. In 1974 she left to study at Victoria University of Wellington.
Joan Wiffen is my hero. In 1975 she found New Zealand’s first ever dinosaur bone.
Like many of us, Joan fossicked for shells and ammonites in sea cliffs as a child. After taking geology night classes Joan learned that the geology of north west Hawke’s Bay made it possible to find reptile bones, although no one had found any. Yet.
Joan concentrated her searches around the Mangahoua Stream northwest of Napier. Her first major find was a vertebra from a theropod – a carnivorous dinosaur that walked on its hind legs 65 million years ago.
Buried in sandstone rocks in treacherous cold water, were dinosaur fossils from both carnivores and herbivores.
Joan found more theropods, a sauropod (a titanosaur : a huge, herbivorous long necked dinosaur), a hypsilophodont (a small bi-ped), an ankylosaur (like an armadillo), an aquatic, air breathing mosasaur, plesiosaurs (like the loch ness monster) and a flying pterosaur.
Joan Wiffen was awarded a Commander of the British Empire, the Science and Technology Bronze Medal and and Honorary DSc from Massey University in 1994. In 1995 she was honoured with Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 2004, she was awarded the Morris Skinner Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.
She continued dinosaur hunting until her death at the age of 87.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day. Celebrated on the second Tuesday in October Ada Lovelace Day is a day for celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and science.
But who was Ada Lovelace?
Born in 1815, Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron and his wife Annabella Milebanke. As a child she was fascinated with machines and this was fostered by the education she received, which for the time was rather unorthodox, with its emphasis on mathematics, logic and science.
Through her friendship with Charles Babbage she became intimately familiar with the earliest clockwork and punchcard “computing” devices. In 1842 she contributed to an article about Babbage’s latest machine or “Analytical Engine”. Part of her contribution to the article were several “computer programs”. This is why she is often described as “the first computer programmer”. She is also credited with seeing the possibilities of computing, greater even than Babbage, who saw his machine as an advanced number-cruncher, where Lovelace imagined more creative possible outputs –
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.
When Alan Turing undertook his work that led to modern computers, it was Ada Lovelace’s notes that informed his work.
As many legends do Lovelace died young, at just 36 years of age, with only half a life’s worth of genius lived.
Today, Ada Lovelace Day is an opportunity to honour and celebrate the scientific achievements of women and to encourage the women technologists, mathematicians and scientists of the future.
If you know an inquisitive, tech/maths/science-obsessed girl, why not introduce her to one of the following titles?
Today, 14 October, is Ada Lovelace Day. Its aim is “Celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths”.
In New Zealand, Rutherford Medals are awarded annually to those making an exceptional contribution to science, mathematics, social science and technology. It is exciting to note that the last three winners have been women.
In 2013, the winner was social scientist Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond FRSNZ, University of Auckland
for her eminent work on Maori social structures and interactions with the European world, and on European exploration and engagement in the Pacific.
Key areas of interest include Maori and Pacific philosophies and ways of living, past and present; Enlightenment science and philosophies, and their Pacific legacies; Experimental futures emerging out of the exchanges between these philosophies and cutting edge science, Exploration and voyaging; environmental issues; ecological restoration.
Dame Anne is a well-respected New Zealander well beyond the scientific community. She was named New Zealander of the Year in 2013.
2012: Distinguished Professor Margaret Brimble CNZM FRSNZ
for her world-leading contributions to the synthesis of bioactive natural products, including a new drug for traumatic brain injury funded by the US army. Professor Brimble was also awarded the 2012 Hector Medal and the 2012 MacDiarmid Medal.
2011: Professor Christine Winterbourn FRSNZ
for her outstanding achievements and discoveries in free radical biology which have established her as a leading world authority in this field.
Botanist and ecologist Lucy Moore is remembered especially for her botanical work on Flora of New Zealand (1961). She has a local connection – in 1960 she moved to Lincoln with the Botany Division. Volume Two of Flora of New Zealand was published in 1970, and was co-written with Elizabeth Edgar.
She received many awards and honours for her work. Lucy played her part in Auckland, Wellington and Canterbury botanical societies and was known to be “unstintingly helpful to all who were interested in botany, and was especially good with children”.
The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography encapsulates her work:
Lucy Moore was sometimes called ‘the mother of New Zealand botany’ and few botanists may ever again equal her range of expertise. She once recalled, ‘we were jacks, or jills, of many trades’. Much more than this, hers was a many-sided expertise, inspired by a vision, and practised with dedication.
John Morton. Moore, Lucy Beatrice, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 30-Oct-2012
In England from late 1945, Batham did pioneering experimental work on sea anemones under Carl Pantin at both the University of Cambridge and the Plymouth laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom. She returned to Dunedin in September 1950 to oversee the revival of the old marine station at Portobello, which was to be taken over by the university. She served on the New Zealand Oceanographic Committee, participated in the Danish Galathea Deep Sea Expedition (1952) and was a member of the Chatham Islands 1954 Expedition. Batham was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1962. She also served a term as president of the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society in 1966.
Appointed government nutrition officer to advise on problems arising out of the Second World War, she made recommendations concerning rationing and set the national ration scales for food items. Bell’s forte was applied research into subjects of practical everyday importance, such as the vitamin content of New Zealand fruit, vegetables, fish and cereals. She provided information to the public through the Department of Health, the Plunket Society, and the press.
Laing and Blackwell’s Plants of New Zealand was to become a botanical classic running to seven editions over the next 60 years. Several generations of people interested in New Zealand’s native plants were to use it as a constant reference book and a number of professional botanists would credit it with stimulating their original interest.
Kathleen Curtis was the first New Zealand woman to gain a DSc, conferred by the University of London in 1919. Her thesis, on the cause of wart disease in potatoes, was considered the most outstanding mycological research of the decade. Suffrage Centennial Year, 1993, brought further recognition of her life’s work when, at the age of 100, she was remembered as a pioneer plant scientist. In 1994 a portrait of her as a young DSc graduate was painted by Colin Allen and hung in the Royal Society’s headquarters in Wellington.
Her paternal grandparents were the British painter Sir John Millais and his wife, Euphemia Gray. There was no contemporary pocket field guide on native birds, and in 1925 Pérrine wrote New Zealand birds and how to identify them. She used her own observations in the field and in museums, ornithological texts, and had help from R. A. Falla, W. R. B. Oliver and other ornithologists. Although she intended her book for the untrained bird-lover, it influenced scientists as well as lay people and ran to five editions.
Tinsley completed pioneering theoretical studies of how populations of stars age and affect the observable qualities of galaxies. She also collaborated on basic research into models investigating whether the universe is closed or open. Her galaxy models led to the first approximation of what protogalaxies should look like. In 1974 she received the American Astronomical Society’s Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy, awarded for “outstanding research and promise for future research by a postdoctoral woman researcher”, in recognition of her work on galaxy evolution. In 1977, Tinsley, with Richard Larson of Yale, organised a conference on ‘The Evolution of Galaxies and Stellar Populations’. Shortly after, in 1978, she became a professor of astronomy at Yale University.
I can’t resist anymore – I have to share my enthusiasm for Sciblogs. This New Zealand based network of scientists post on a wide range of topics. What I really like is the standard of the writing. I feel informed about quite complex things. There is sometimes an element of fun and also some out there controversy. Sciblogs is run by the Science Media Centre which was developed by the Royal Society of New Zealand and is government funded.
As someone who struggled through School Certificate general science with a furrowed brow (although I have memories of a lively and varied learning programme – frog dissection, worm dissection, mixing colourful things over bunsen burners, operating the weather station at primary school) things scientific often were put aside as too hard. But this is wrong – we need to be informed about so many things in our world that affect our everyday lives and good, clear science writing is vital.
Today is Ada Lovelace Day and Sciblogs does include some women scientists and science writers. What they have in common is that winning combination of a passion for science and great skill at communicating it. Try misc.ience (Aimee Whitcroft), Science Life (Rebecca McLeod), Building Blogs of Science (Fabiana Kubke) and more.