Ada Lovelace Day: celebrating women in STEM

Posted on 14 Oct 2015 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Today (October 13) is Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).

To mark the occasion, an exhibition of the life and work of the Victorian Mathematician will open at the Science Museum in London this week.

The display will include a working model of a machine that Lovelace designed but didn’t have the funds to create herself, as well as a lock of her hair.

Universities and schools up and down the UK, and all over the world, will be commemorating her life by sharing stories of women in STEM, hoping to raise the profile of women and their valuable contributions to male-dominated fields.

Ada Lovelace
Babbage called Lovelace the ‘Enchantress of Numbers’. (Courtesy of the MAA on Flickr)

The official Ada Lovelace Day event will be hosted by the Conway Hall Ethical Society at Conway Hall, Holborn, this evening.

Confirmed speakers include Mars Rover engineer Abigail Hutty, astrophysicist and science communicator Dr Jen Gupta, nanochemist Dr Suze Kundu.

Who was Ada Lovelace?

  • Ada Lovelace’ was born Ada Gordon in 1815, sole child of the brief and tempestuous marriage of poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his mathematics-loving wife Annabella Milbanke.
  • Lovelace, from childhood had a fascination with machine.
  • In 1833, Lovelace was introduced to Charles Babbage, the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics who had already attained considerable celebrity for his visionary and perpetually unfinished plans for gigantic clockwork calculating machines.
  • Babbage nicknamed her the ‘Enchantress of Numbers’.
  • In 1842 Lovelace translated a short article describing the Analytical Engine by the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, for publication in England.
  • Babbage asked her to expand the article, “as she understood the machine so well”.
  • The final article is over three times the length of the original and contains several early computer programmes, as well as strikingly prescient observations on the potential uses of the machine, including the manipulation of symbols and creation of music.
  • Although Babbage and his assistants had sketched out programmes for his engine before, Lovelace’s are the most elaborate and complete, and the first to be published; so she is often referred to as “the first computer programmer”.