Monthly Archives: October 2015

Women in STEM display in the IRC

001Just in time for the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, there’s a display about women in STEM in the IRC. Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 and is recognized as the world’s first computer programmer.
An exhibit about Ada Lovelace opened in London’s Science Museum on Oct. 13th, which is not a  randomly chosen date. Lovelace’s achievements and women in STEM are celebrated around the world in mid-October on Ada Lovelace Day.
Lovelace was 17 years old when she encountered Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine. Babbage, a mathematician and mechanical engineer, was working on his Difference Engine, a calculating machine designed to solve complicated mathematical problems. Lovelace described the Difference Engine as a “thinking machine,” and she became very interested in the machine and in mathematics, according to Tilly Blyth, lead curator of the Ada Lovelace exhibition.
Blyth said in a statement that the subject both “fascinated and enthralled” the young Lovelace. Her early fascination with mathematics and the complex machines used to solve equations eventually led her to take a much closer look at the principles behind another machine that Babbage proposed to build, the Analytical Engine.
From the museum website’s description of the Ada Lovelace exhibit:
“In 1842, Lovelace translated into English a detailed account of this machine, as described by the Italian mathematician (and later Prime Minister of Italy) Luigi Menabrea.
Lovelace’s translation of Menabrea’s account was published alongside her extensive notes about the Analytical Engine and its potential uses. Included in her notes was an algorithm that the machine could use to calculate Bernoulli numbers (a set of rational numbers often used in number theory, or arithmetic). Many consider Lovelace’s algorithm to be the first computer code ever created, because it was the first logical set of steps developed for use with a specific machine.
In addition to coming up with the world’s first computer code, Lovelace also foretold the coming of the computer age. Her notes on the Analytical Engine relay an important message: Complex mathematical machines can do a lot more than crunch numbers. She predicted that Babbage’s machine might solve any problem that could be expressed using logistical symbols — such as the creation of complex musical scores.”
The Analytical Engine was described as a steam power computer for the 1800’s by the exhibit curator. Unfortunately, it was never fully developed because Babbage couldn’t get funding.
Lovelace’s notes are on display at the new exhibit, which also includes a collection of her personal letters and several portraits of the Victorian-era computer programmer. Also on display are Babbage’s intricate drawings of the Analytical Engine, as well as a part of this calculating machine (which was never fully built), and other inventions.
In a BBC Newshour segment about Ada Lovelace Day and the museum exhibit, women in STEM and tech fields were interviewed. Ada Lovelace Day began in 2009 because a lack of women at tech conferences and the need to interest more women in STEM and tech fields.
Ann O’Day, an organizer of Inspired Fest, was interviewed for the BBC Newshour piece and stated that there is a need for more women in STEM fields because a diverse group of people should design things for a diverse world. She used the example of the crash test dummy, which was modeled on a male physiology so it didn’t really test for crash impact on females until a dummy based on the female physique was used in crashes.
O’Day said that there are not enough women in key roles of leadership and tech roles. While there are role models at the top, like Sheryl Sandberg, O’Day said there is a need for more female role models at all levels. She also stated that there is a need for more education about hiring practices and unconscious bias.

002All the books on display can be checked out.