Exemplars – Ada Byron King

Continuing our recognition of great women in history, please enjoy this post on Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace…  

Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, was born today, December 10, in 1815. Her determined mother spearheaded Ada’s rigorous education, which focused on music, mathematics, and science. The learning stuck, and paid off.

In 1833, the young Ada met an English math professor at Cambridge University named Charles Babbage. Despite their more than 25 year age difference, they were intellectual peers and became fast friends. Babbage, who would become known as ‘the father of computers’, corresponded with Ada for the next two decades, during which time he invented what was called the ‘Analytical Engine’.  

In 1843, Babbage asked Ada to translate a description of his engine for an Italian military engineer. Over the next nine months, she did just that…and more. In addition to providing a literal translation, she added her own set of notes which was three times longer than the actual translation. Her notes included some of Babbage’s own calculations in which she found errors, made note of, and corrected.  

She also possessed vision, describing how this ‘Analytical Engine’ could be used to calculate a sequence of figures, then proved the calculation by diagramming the computations that the machine would make. In short, she had written the first computer algorithm. She also saw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating, but also articulated how individuals and society might relate to technology as a collaborative tool.  

In spite of all her accomplishments, the countess was born under a dark star. The only legitimate child of the notorious poet Lord Byron, she, too, died young, at the age of 36.

Ada is considered by many to be the first author of a computer program, despite having lived a century before the invention of the modern computer. In 1953, more than a century after her death, Ada’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine were republished. The ‘engine’ has now been acknowledged as a prototype for a computer. Her notes are now regarded as the first description of a computer and software.

Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, was a pioneer in computing. She championed the new technology that would shape the future.

If you want to join the increasing number of women innovators in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, consider the work of Ada Byron King.

.“My comprehension can only be an infinitesimal fraction of all I want to understand.”  Ada Byron King.


8 thoughts on “Exemplars – Ada Byron King

  1. This post made my heart sing! As a woman in STEM, I adore Ada (and Emmy Noether, Annie Easley, Maryam Mirzakhani, Katherine Johnson…). I was thrilled to see her name, and her lovely quote at the end describes me as well. Thank you so much for highlighting these extraordinary women and holding them up as examples for young girls (even the ones who have been “young” a long time — like me)!

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      1. I’d be delighted!

        Emmy Noether (German pronunciation: NOO-tuhr, with a hard “t” and very little emphasis on the “r”) was described by Albert Einstein as the most important woman in the history of mathematics. She developed Noether’s Theorem, which is an incredibly elegant and important proof intertwining mathematical symmetry and the laws of physics. She moved to the US from her native Germany after Germany’s Nazi government forced all Jewish professors, including her, out of their university positions in the 1930s. She lived and taught in the US afterward, keeping a determined mind and a light-hearted attitude toward life throughout hers: despite her hardship, she was always a courageous and uplifting presence to those around her. Emmy did a LOT more work in abstract algebra that math folks like me can read about with a quick Web search and chip away at understanding!

        Annie Easley was a “human computer” for NACA/NASA who did vital work in energy technology that enables aerospace projects to this day. She was a thoughtful, determined and strong woman who overcame many obstacles in her life and career before and during the Civil Rights Movement, when African-American women like her faced deep challenges in the workplace. She devoted much of her time later in life to encouraging and helping women and people of color to pursue careers in STEM fields. She’s a tremendous inspiration to me, and her Oral History interview with NASA is an engaging, quotable read. I highly recommend it to all, especially those pushing through setbacks and difficult times, whatever those may be for you: “You’re never too old, and if you want to, as my mother said, you can do anything you want to, but you have to work at it.” https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/history/oral_histories/NASA_HQ/Herstory/EasleyAJ/AJE_8-21-01.pdf

        Maryam Mirzakhani was the first woman — and the first Iranian — to win the Fields Medal, which is considered the highest attainable honor for a mathematician. Her determination and humble attitude despite her brilliance made her an absolute treasure. She taught at Stanford and, tragically, passed away last year at age 40 from breast cancer. She is a heroine both here in the US and in Iran, and she even received a lovely eulogy from President Rouhani. She’s all the more special to me because she was able to bring our cultures together in that way.

        Katherine Johnson was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures” and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 by President Obama. She is a brilliant mathematician and a pioneering African-American woman in STEM; she’s also the only one of the women I’ve listed who is still living today. She worked for NACA and later NASA as the two merged, and she has been responsible for the success of many missions. (Katherine and) I highly recommend the movie!

        Sincere apologies for my late reply — I’ve been busy. I hope this was helpful!

        I’m looking forward to another fantastic book from you! Thank you again for sharing so much wisdom and inspiration.

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      2. Also, I just noticed a bad word choice in my reply: a mathematical proof is a proof OF a theorem, such as Noether’s Theorem. A theorem is an expression — or “proof,” as the term is commonly used, and as I used it above — of a relationship. Sorry if it was confusing!

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