October 15 2013 will be the fifth annual Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Ada Lovelace Day is about sharing stories of women — whether engineers, scientists, technologists or mathematicians — who have inspired you to become who you are today. The aim is to create new role models for girls and women in these male-dominated fields by raising the profile of other women in STEM.
Yesterday, we asked Ada Lovelace Day founder Suw Charman-Anderson about plans for Ada Lovelace Day 2013, and how Ada Lovelace Day has changed and grown. Today she shares some of what she’s learned about women in STEM through Ada Lovelace Day, including four women who are less invisible to her as a result.
What’s your favourite Ada Lovelace fact?
Suw: I love the letter that Ada wrote to Faraday when she was trying to convince him to tutor her. She was a real fangirl:
Dear Mr Faraday,
I am exceedingly tickled with your comparison of yourself to a tortoise. It has excited all my fun (& I assure you I have no little of that in me).
I am also struck with the forcible truth of your designation of my character of mind:
“elasticity of intellect“.
It is indeed the very truth, most happily put into language.
You have excited in my mind a ridiculous, but not ungraceful, allegorical picture, viz:
that of a quiet demure plodding tortoise, with a beautiful fairy gambolling round it in a thousand radiant & varying hues; the tortoise crying out, “Fairy, fairy, I am not like you. I cannot at pleasure assume a thousand aerial shapes & expand myself over the face of the universe. Fairy, fairy, have mercy on me, & remember I am but a tortoise“.
Given that he was a devout Christian, very humble and self-disciplined, I can’t imagine that he was hugely impressed, but Ada’s so charming and playful it’s hard to imagine anyone could hold her enthusiasm against her!!
Tell us about some of the women you’ve been introduced to through Ada Lovelace Day.
Patricia Bath, born 1942: Patented a method for removing cataract lenses using a laser which quickly and almost painlessly dissolves the cataract. Her device has successfully restored vision to people who have been unable to see for decades.
Hedy Lamarr, born 1914: She was a Hollywood starlet in the 1940s who also invented frequency hopping, a technology that is still used in wireless devices today. She offered it to the US Navy for use in encrypting the signal to radio-controlled torpedoes during the Second World War, but they rejected the idea and it wasn’t finally implemented until 1962.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, born 1906: One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I, inventor of the compiler, and a driving force behind the development of COBOL. Also popularised the use of the word ‘bug’ to mean a mistake in code, famously locating an actual bug – a moth – in the relays of the Mark II.
And going back a little further in time we have, from 2285 BCE, EnHedu’Anna High Priestess of the Moon-god Nanna, at Ur in Sumeria (now in Iraq), who was responsible for monitoring the movements of the stars via network of observatories as a part of her duties. She created the first collection of astronomical observations. Modern astronomy and maths follows almost continuous line from Sumeria to the present.
More about Suw
Suw Charman-Anderson is the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. She is also a social technologist and, as one of the UK’s social media pioneers, has helped clients worldwide use social tools for collaboration and communication internally and to build customer relationships externally.
A freelance journalist, she has written about social media and technology for The Guardian, CIO Magazine, .Net Magazine, Computer Weekly and FirstPost.com. She currently blogs about publishing and crowdfunding for Forbes.com.
In 2005, Suw co-founded the Open Rights Group with the aim of raising awareness of digital rights issues and campaigning against bad legislation in Britain and the EU.
You can join Suw at Ada Lovelace Day Live! in London on October 15, with performers including Fran Scott, a science communicator who designs demos for CBBC, live stage shows and the Science Museum; Prof Molly Stevens, a leading bioengineer from Imperial College London whose work includes growing human bones in the lab; and Hazel Gibson, a geologist studying how geological processes affect our lives, and who is out to prove that women and geology is a combination that rocks!
Other events are being held around the world.