Ada Lovelace Day – Tuesday 9 October 2018

Today is Ada Lovelace Day.

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.

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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.

Find out more: Ada Lovelace: Victorian computing visionary by Suw Charman-Anderson.

Ada Lovelace’s passion for science and technology made her the logical namesake for an international day to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

In New Zealand the roll call for Illustrious Women Scientists includes such names as:

150 women in 150 words Royal Society Te Apārangi celebrates women’s contribution to expanding knowledge in New Zealand.

Woman inside a laboratory, Wallaceville Animal Research Centre. Ref: 1/1-021378-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23081298
Woman inside a laboratory, Wallaceville Animal Research Centre. Ref: 1/1-021378-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23081298

Ada Lovelace Day 2017: Celebrating New Zealand women in science!

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.

Conservation: Pérrine Moncrieff (1893-1979)

From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22428306
From left; Perrine Moncrieff, Mr Martin, Mrs Claasen, Mr Gourlay, Mr Osborne (?).. Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand :Photographs relating to Perrine Moncrieff. Ref: PAColl-3295-1-10. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz//records/22428306

Pérrine Moncrieff came from the United Kingdom after World War One to settle in Nelson. With skill in art and an interest in bird life, she devised a pocket guide; New Zealand Birds and How to Identify Them (1925). In the preface she wrote,

“…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 1932 Pérrine was appointed the first female President of the Royal Australasian Ornithological Union. She lobbied for the conservation of birds, forests and soil against gold mining and milling; successfully establishing the Abel Tasman National Park in 1942.

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.

Read:

Robin Hodge. Moncrieff, Pérrine, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in October, 2001. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4m57/moncrieff-perrine (accessed 9 October 2017)

Botany: Ellen Blackwell (1864-1952)

R. K. Dell. 'Blackwell, Ellen Wright', first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)
R. K. Dell. ‘Blackwell, Ellen Wright’, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

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.

Read:

R. K. Dell. Blackwell, Ellen Wright, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 3, 1996. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/3b37/blackwell-ellen-wright (accessed 9 October 2017)

Nutrition : Muriel Bell (1898-1974)

Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481
Hocken Snapshop (29th Aug 2017). Bell, Dr. Muriel Emma. In Website Hocken Snapshop. Retrieved 9th Oct 2017 12:41, from http://hocken.recollect.co.nz/nodes/view/30481

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.

In 1952 Muriel was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand, and in 1959 she was made a Commander of the British Empire. She also wrote for the New Zealand Listener on nutrition for many years.

Read:

Philippa Mein Smith. Bell, Muriel Emma, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 4, 1998, and updated online in June, 2012. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4b21/bell-muriel-emma (accessed 9 October 2017)

Marine Biology: Elizabeth Batham (1917-1974)

Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in "Herstory '84". Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23155427
Elizabeth Joan Batham. Ormsby, Mary Louise, 1947- :Negatives of portraits used in “Herstory ’84”. Ref: 1/4-110043-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. https://natlib.govt.nz/records/23155427

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.

Betty sadly disappeared while diving in Seatoun.

Read:

John Jillett. Batham, Elizabeth Joan, first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol. 5, 2000. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/5b13/batham-elizabeth-joan (accessed 9 October 2017)

Paleontology: Joan Wiffen (1922-2009)

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.

Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)
Ankylosauria, collected Mangahouanga Stream, New Zealand. Purchased 2014 (tbc). CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Te Papa (S.045836)

Wiffen experimented with new techniques which yielded great results. Her collections are held at GNS Science in Lower Hutt. Some have been lent to the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa.

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.

Read:

Heritage scientist timeline – Joan Wiffen.

Further reading

Inspiring girls to work in STEM – Ada Lovelace Day 2016

Today is Ada Lovelace Day – a celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and science. It’s celebrated on the second Tuesday in October.

STEM (Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is a field that needs more women. Careers NZ looks at where women are working in STEM, and job opportunities.

Having inspiring examples for girls and young women is an important part of adding balance into the sector. Curious  Minds – He Hihiri i te Mahara does it well – Increasing girls’ and women’s participation in STEM publishes profiles of women in science, technology and engineering, and new profiles are added each week. Dr Victoria Metcalf’s New Zealand women in STEM – talented and diverse is a cool look into Curious Minds.
Like Curious Minds on Facebook and follow on Twitter.

Fabriko Electronic Stickers Fun Palace
Fabriko Electronic Stickers Fun Palace, Central Library Peterborough. Sunday 2 October 2016. Flickr 2016-10-2-IMG_6300

STEM at libraries and learning centres

Science Snippets in the library hosted by Science Alive! After school sessions start back next week Monday 17 October.

Anna and Gen from Science Alive!
Anna and Gen from Science Alive!

See also:

Books to give girls STEM inspiration

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Our previous Ada Lovelace Day posts

Ada Lovelace – Computing before it was cool

Cover of the bride of scienceToday 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?

Cover of Amazing applications and perfect programs Cover of Awesome algorithms and creative coding Cover of computer networks Cover of The science of computers Cover of Cool biology activities for girls Cover of Cool chemistry activities for girls Cover of Cool engineering activities for girls Cover of Cool physics activities for girls

Or consider nudging someone you know along to our Minecraft Club for Girls or Girl Zone computing and tech skills course.

More recommended reading

Our previous Ada Lovelace Day posts

Not kitchen science!

The 13th of October is Ada Lovelace Day, a celebration of women in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and coincidentally I just finished reading two fantastic books about clever science-y girls in the 19th century. One features prickly Faith, manipulating her way onto an archaeology dig, and the other clever Calpurnia Tate (or Callie Vee), dissecting local wildlife in 1900s Texas. They’re both funny, intelligent, and betrayed by the restrictions placed on ladies of the time.

Cover of The Curious World of Calpurnia TateThe Curious World of Calpurnia Tate is actually the second book by Jacqueline Kelly, the first being The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. They sit somewhere between the children’s and teen section, with Calpurnia turning 13 in the sequel. Both books are episodic in nature, describing her deepening relationship with both science and her grandfather, as well as the difficulties of being more interested in dissecting frogs than learning how to run a household.

Cover of The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree is probably another in-between read (shelved in the Young Adult section), but darker than Calpurnia — there’s murder and lies and betrayal as well as friendship and strength and spelunking. Set on a windswept island off the coast of Britain, Faith has to battle Victorian social mores as well as feed a lie-eating plant in order to discover the murderer’s identity. This book is one of my top picks for 2015, cementing Frances Hardinge’s position as one of my favourite authors.

Cover of The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and BabbageAnd for one last book recommendation, try The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage, perfect for fans of gaslamp fantasy Girl Genius. The title says it all, really.

Who are your favourite sciency heroines, real or otherwise?