The second Tuesday in October may sound unremarkable but it is marked by a truly remarkable event: the celebration of Ada Lovelace and the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).
What is Ada Lovelace Day?
Ada Lovelace Day celebrates the British mathematician and writer, Ada Lovelace.
Her father was notably the poet Lord Byron but Lovelace is known for her work in becoming the first computer programmer.
Why was Ada Lovelace so important?
During her twenties, Lovelace was surrounded by great scientific minds, including Mary Somerville, who is known for being the first female member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and the British mathematician Charles Babbage.
Babbage is known for being the father of computers thanks to his work on the Analytical Engine, an idea of what the first computer could be.
During this time, Lovelace translated some work by an Italian engineer, Luigi Menabrea; an article he wrote about Babbage’s engine.
As well as translation, Lovelace added her own notes to the project, publishing the piece “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator.”
These notes turned out to the first computer programme, the first algorithm for the machine to carry out.
As well, her work was one of the most comprehensive at the time for explaining what the engine would do: that computers could do more than calculate numbers, but also create music and art, given the right programming.
Her work also inspired UK scientist Alan Turing when he eventually built the first computer.
Lovelace died of cancer at the age of 36, a few short years after her work was published.
Why is Ada Lovelace Day importance?
Suw Charman-Anderson, who established Ada Lovelace Day on through her blog Finding Ada, said she was inspired to set up the day as a way to highlight women’s role in technology and science.
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Despite women playing an important role in STEM, they are often be overlooked in the field. In particular, this past year has been dominated by headlines about women in the industry and the issues they face.
For instance, there was the so-called Google Memo, which stated that women don’t succeed in tech due to their biological make-up which makes them more prone to anxiety.
Social scientist and psychologist, Rosalind C. Barnett, and journalist Caryl Rivers wrote a piece for Recode debunking this message:
We have been researching issues of gender and STEM for more than 25 years. We can flatly say that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.
In addition, in June The New York Times published a piece women in the tech industry speaking about the sexual harrassment they had faced. The piece notably led to the resignation of a then-celebrated venture capitalist in the industry, Dave McClure of 500 Startups, due to the allegations posed against him.
As well the Nobel Foundation, has been criticised for its lack of inclusion of women. After the announcement of this year’s awards, which were all awarded to men, it was revealed that women have won 49 out of the 923 prizes, awarded since 1901.
Goran Hansson, vice chair of the board of directors of the Nobel Foundation, said:
We are very proud of the laureates who were awarded the prize this year. But we are disappointed looking at the larger perspective that more women have not been awarded. Part of it is that we go back in time to identify discoveries. We have to wait until they have been verified and validated, before we can award the prize. There was an even larger bias against women then. There were far fewer women scientists if you go back 20 or 30 years.
I suspect there are many more women who are deserving to be considered for the prize. Therefore, we have started to identify leading women scientists and have invited for them to be nominated. We will, starting next year, indicate in our invitation to nominate women scientists and consider ethnic and geographic diversity.
Finally, we are going to have a conference this winter with the different prize committees to discuss this issue. So we are concerned, and we are taking measures. I hope that in five years or ten years, we will see a very different situation.
For stories such as these, it is important to champion the women working in STEM, past and present.
How to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day
One of the easiest ways to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day is to simply celebrate the intelligent and pioneering women in STEM today.
As well, Finding Ada brings together a list of all the different events that take place on Ada Lovelace Day every year. An official event is being held at The Royal Institution in London.
Speakers include: Praminda Caleb-Solly, an associate professor in the faculty of environment and technology at the University of West England and a theme leader at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory; Yasmin Ali, a chartered chemical engineer; and Miranda Lowe, the principal curator at UK’s National History Museum.
If you can’t make it to London, you can check all the events happening worldwide here, from Barcelona to Brazil.