Ada Lovelace Day: celebrating women in science

Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace

Today celebrates not just Ada Lovelace, the inspirational Victorian scientist, but the achievements of all women in STEM.

Who was Ada Lovelace? I didn’t know too much about her until some scientist friends of mine named their daughter Ada in her honour. I decided to find out more – and was amazed.

Often referred to as the world’s first computer programmer, Ada Lovelace (1815-1852) was the daughter of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. Byron called Anne Isabella his ‘princess of parallelograms’ because of her interest and ability in maths, among many other things.

Ada worked with the mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage. She interpreted Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a proposed general-purpose computer that could carry out a number of calculations. Ada’s notes on the Analytical Engine included a detailed method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers using the Engine. Because of this, Ada is considered to have written the first ever computer program.

Ada was recently the fascinating subject of BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives.

Launched in 2009, Ada Lovelace Day puts the spotlight on women in STEM. It highlights inspirational contemporary role models, as well as telling Ada’s story.

These role models are fantastic – but I can’t help feeling they’re not enough on their own. We need to do a lot more research to identify and tackle misconceptions about women in science and engineering. For example, the Science for Careers Expert Group found that girls tend to be put off by the idea of science as a solitary career – when the reality is that multi-disciplinary team work is often vital.  We also need to understand more about the drop in female student numbers from GCSE to A level.

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