Today it’s Ada Lovelace Day, when we celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Start Ada Lovelace Day with this poetry generator Scratch project from Code Club.
Once you’ve done that, have a little ponder. A quick poll of Pi Towers revealed that while we think we all know all about Ada Lovelace herself, the sum of knowledge of most of us appears to be “Um…First computer programmer. Analytical engine. Yeah?”
We’ve made a list of Ada Lovelace Facts to fill in your blanks.
- Although she was Lord Byron’s (yes, that Lord Byron) daughter, Ada Lovelace had no relationship with him. He left her and Lady Byron to go and pursue an actress before little Ada was a month old, and she never saw him again – he died when she was eight years old.
- Lady Byron herself was no slouch when it came to what we now call STEM. She was particularly interested in astronomy and mathematics: Byron called her his “Princess of Parallelograms”.
- Lady Byron was worried that some of Lord Byron’s famously lascivious behaviour might rub off on her little daughter, so she made the decision to build a maths and science curriculum for Ada to follow from the age of 4 to distract her from more worldly concerns – vanishingly unusual for a 19th century English noblewoman.
- At the age of 17, Lovelace met Charles Babbage, and saw a demo of a model portion of his proposed Difference Engine. Her work with the Difference Engine and Analytical Engine (neither the Difference Engine nor the Analytical Engine was ever built in Babbage’s or Lovelace’s lifetimes) are what we primarily remember her for.
- Ada also had an important female mentor: Mary Somerville, a Scottish mathematician and astronomer, who, elected at the same time as Caroline Herschel, was one of the first two women to be made a member of the Royal Astronomical Society.
- When she was 28, Ada Lovelace translated an Italian paper on Babbage’s Analytical Engine into English – and added enough original material to it to increase its length three times over. Her additions to that paper showed how Babbage’s Analytical Engine could be coded to calculate Bernoulli numbers: the first machine algorithm, and the first computer program.
- Ada Lovelace was a musician as well as a scientist, and worked on musical compositions based on numbers, an application which she intended for the Analytical Engine.
- Lovelace came up with a method for the Analytical Engine to repeat a series of instructions: the first documented loop in computing.
- She attempted to use her mathematical and analytical skills to give her the upper hand in gambling, particularly on horses. It wasn’t a great success, despite the development of complicated mathematical schemes: she had to pawn the family jewels, and on one occasion lost a staggering £3,200 on one horse race.
- After her death, Ada Lovelace’s contributions to science were forgotten – until 1953, when her notes were published by B.V. in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. Since then she’s had a programming language (Ada) named after her, many books written about her – and we celebrate her, and other women in STEM, every year.