Today, we tip our hats to another steampunk inspiration, Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (but better known just as “Ada Lovelace”): mathematical genius, music-lover, and the daughter of Lord Byron. Her love of mathematics was instilled from a young age for surprising reasons; her math-loving mother was determined to squish any romantic fancies that her paternity might have bestowed upon her daughter. Thus, Ada was brought up to be a mathematician and a scientist, growing adept at the nineteenth-century STEM fields. While she always had a love for math and technological gadgets, she still retained a sense of imaginative soulfulness and once asked her mother whether she could have a “poetical science” of her own. This primarily came out in her fascination with music composition.
She finally met her intellectual peer in Charles Babbage at a dinner party in 1834, where he first proposed ideas behind his Analytical Machine. No one else believed such a machine was possible except for her.
Their lifelong friendship thus began, resulting in a series of correspondences about the workings for Babbage’s theoretical machines. In 1842-43, while translating some notes from Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, she added an addendum of her own work, an algorithm for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers with the Analytical Engine. She is now known today as the world’s first computer programmer, particularly for the programs she designed for Babbage’s Difference Engine and Analytical Engine. Her skill was widely acknowledged in their circles during her lifetime, and Babbage once dubbed her “the Enchantress of Numbers.”
After her unfortunate death from cancer at the age of 36, her legacy faded to a footnote in computer history. For the past several years, however, Ada Lovelace has become revived in many ways. Most significantly, in 2009, psychologist Penelope Lockwood proposed a day to recognize prominent female role models in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Thus, Ada Lovelace Day was born, a day when people from all over the blogosphere write one post about Ada and other inspiring women in the STEM fields (and in geek culture in general).
For more info about Ada Lovelace Day, check out the official website Finding Ada. In further celebration, Sydney Padua, author of 2DGoggles, or the Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage, has released the full comic for download on the iPad, complete with a bunch of awesome bonus footnotes and the extra comic “The Secret Origin of Ada, The Countess of Lovelace.”
And, in the spirit of the day, I’ll also tip my hat to another great computer programmer: Fran Allen, the first woman to win the Turing Award.
Who else would you like to recognize today as a fab STEM (or geeky) woman?