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?
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.
The 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.
The 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.