A gifted mathematician. Ambitious. A visionary.
Ada Lovelace’s love of science and maths led to her working with some of the greatest mathematicians of all time.
But, it was her forward-thinking nature that led her to predict that computers could do far more than solve maths problems. Something that took 100 years to be fully understood.
The second Tuesday in October is Ada Lovelace Day. It’s a chance to celebrate Ada’s achievements, but also highlight the achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields.
Who Is Ada Lovelace?
Ada was born The Hon. Augusta Ada Byron, the daughter of poet Lord Byron.
After her parents divorced, Ada went to live with her mother, which was unheard of in Victorian England, as custody usually went to the father.
Wherever her famous father went, scandal followed. He had many male and female lovers, had a fiery temper and occurred huge debts. He also fought as a revolutionary during the greek war of independence.
Ada Lovelace’s mother blamed Lord Byron’s “Insanity” squarely on his love for art, so pushed Ava to be much more logical. Lady Byron encouraged her daughter in Mathematical and scientific study, which Ava flourished in. Lady Byron enlisted the help of her friend, Mary Somerville, a scientific writer, mathematician and scientist, as a tutor.
But she also pushed Ava to be presented at court and be a respected member of society, probably to curb more family scandals. Not that it worked.
Periods of intense illness marred Ava’s life. She suffered from severe migraines which blocked her vision. She even spent a year in bed after an illness paralysed her. She had to learn to walk again.
Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace
Mary Somerville introduced her to Charles Babbage, amongst other mathematicians and scientists. Ava and Charles Babbage struck up a close friendship.
Ada became enamoured with the plans for the difference engine, and also got a close-up view of the development of the analytical engine.
Ada was asked to translate an article written by an Italian engineer. As she began to translate the article, she added her own corrections and opinions on the engine.
Her notes were over three times longer than the original text.
In her notes, she came up with the idea that the engine could use looping and could handle letters, symbols and numbers. She added that machines could be much more than Babbage had considered.
Ada died from cancer at the age of 36, the same age as her father.
Ada’s Contribution to STEM
Ada Lovelace’s contribution to STEM is often questioned. While some credit her as the first computer programmer, other’s disagree.
But she brought something new to the table.
Ada brought imagination.
Science and Technology were often about solving current problems. Babbage wanted his machine to run analytics but didn’t believe it could do any more.
Ada’s prophesied computing.
She believed in it.
She used her privilege and status to further her mind and develop her talents in an era where women were often pushed down and dismissed.
And she did all of this while battling chronic illness, participating in society and raising three children.
Imagine if she had devoted her life to mathematics. Imagine if she had lived beyond 36. Imagine what she could have achieved without any distraction.
Whatever you believe about Ada Lovelace, she has an important place in promoting women in STEM.
Why Do We Need More Women In STEM?
Ada Lovelace brought a new side to technology that Charles Babbage didn’t consider. She had a wild imagination which could be used to see things that the more logical Babbage may have missed.
By diversifying the workforce, we open up a whole new world. Where STEM has been predominantly male-focused, we find that certain aspects are missed.
- Did you know that the common “Warning Signs” of a heart attack only happen to men?
- Women are more likely to die in a car crash because cars are set up and safety-tested for a man of average height.
- Drugs are tested on primarily male subjects, meaning women often suffer from undiscovered side effects.
This isn’t a deliberate exclusion though.
It’s just not thought about.
By diversifying workplaces, you bring about new ideas and new experiences. We can have unique approaches to work. Someone may have spotted something new that nobody thought about before.
So What is Ada Lovelace Day?
Ada Lovelace Day is a celebration of women in STEM. It hopes to raise the profile of women’s achievements across industries in order to give young girls role models, just like Ava had.
There are events held up and down the country, from huge organised events, such as Finding Ava’s ALD Live!