You will be reading this post on a computer, tablet or even a smartphone, what ever device you use, these words are being transmitted by a computer.
Computers are a massive part of our daily lives these days, and one of its pioneers was a mathematician called Ada Lovelace who created the first ever computer program.
Lovelace was born 189 years ago, on December 10th, 1815, to an unconventional family. Her father was the famous English poet, Lord Byron.
In the 1800’s the computer may not have existed as we know it now, but the concept did. Back in the 19th Century, long calcuations were done by people, which were prone to human error, not a surprise considering how complex some of these calculations would have been for scientists. So Charles Babbage decided to create a machine, called the difference engine, to perform these set calculations automatically. Now it was the age of steam, with electricity the subject of early experiments, so the difference engine was envisaged as a mechanical machine, to be powered by turning a crank or by steam.
During this time Lovelace started to correspond with Charles Babbage after seeing the protype Charles had been working on. Lovelace was asked by Babbage’s friend, inventor Charles Wheatstone, to translate Menabrea’s notes from French to English. However, she did a little more than that. Lovelace expanded on the original writings three-fold. Her Translation and extended notes (published in 1843) became the most important work describing the analytical engine a proposed clockwork computer and how it could be used. Lovelace had created the first computer program in existence.
Lovelace of course did not live to see her work come to life, but her work was so important that the US government in the 1970’s created a standardised computer language to use for its applications, and called it ADA in Lovelace’s honour. The ADA language is still in use in systems such as air traffic control, in planes such as the Boeing 777 and London’s tube to name but a few, I have even read that it is used in space missions such as Mars Express and the Beagle 2.
Ada Lovelace, mathematician and computer pioneer, understood the potential over a century before the digital revolution began.
So today we celebrate all women in STEM (Scientists, Engineers and Mathematicians). We are celebrating the research conducted by our own women scientists, Dr Anna Lisa Gentile, Dr Vita Lanfranchi, and our research PhD students Andrea Varga, Khadija Elbedweihy and Isabelle Augenstein.