National Geographic
Menu

Ada Lovelace Day Celebrates Women in Science

 

Ada Lovelace

Portrait of Ada Lovelace in 1838 by William Henry Mote (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Today, the 16th of October, is Ada Lovelace Day. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Ada Lovelace, or of this celebration each October. It’s one of the more unusual dates, but if you’re one of the many (yet still minority of) women in science, this is a day you recognize, and a day that recognizes you.

Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born in Britain in 1815, not a time known for women scientists.  Raised in a household of science and mathematics, in 1833 Ada began to work with Charles Babbage (the “father of the computer”), who called Ada affectionately, the “Enchantress of Numbers.” The pair worked on Babbage’s theoretical Analytical Engine, an unrealized precursor to the modern computer, and Ada is recognized as publishing the very first computer programs. It is Ada’s work that inspired Alan Turing, who built the first modern computer in the 1940′s.

Antarctic 2011

I've been lucky enough to work with many amazing female scientists. Here myself (right) and Laura Robinson (left) discuss the day's plan on one of our own research and exploration cruises to the Antarctic (NBP1103). It wasn't until the 1950's that women scientists were able to work in the Antarctic. By Rhian Waller.

 

Ada was a strong lady, who followed her scientific and technological passions, much the scandal at the time. Interests outside the home and ‘society’ were much frowned upon, as well as working with men who were not her husband. Ada has become a symbol for us women in science, to keep going when times are tough, to follow the scientific method, to follow your passion.

The numbers are changing, there are more women in science today than there have ever been, but we are still a minority. I am lucky to be in the field of marine biology, where there are more women than in most scientific fields, yet most departments in the U.S. see less than 20% women faculty, and even fewer tenured. I am always encouraged by the young and enthusiastic women I see through my laboratory – the undergraduates, the graduate students and the postdocs. There are challenges ahead for them, but if you have the passion and drive, you can do anything.

Here’s to all the women scientists and explorers out there – keep up the good work!

 

 

Comments

  1. Fred Goodwin
    San Antonio, TX
    October 17, 2012, 6:17 pm

    Why was October 16 chosen as the date for Ada Lovelace Day? Is this date significant in the life of Miss Lovelace? I’ve seen many articles celebrating this day but none of them indicate why this date was chosen.

  2. Ima Ryma
    October 17, 2012, 4:33 am

    Ada Lovelace, Lord Bryon’s child,
    With the numbers made poetry.
    By computing she was beguiled.
    Computer programmer was she,
    A pioneer of the machine
    That intertwines all life today.
    She foretold what it all could mean,
    Way ahead of her time, do say.
    She loved to gamble, and did try
    To find a mathematic spin
    On winning bets – it went awry.
    But otherwise, she was a win.

    “The Enchantress of Numbers” got
    10/16 as her numbered spot.

  3. Sarah Doyle
    United States
    October 16, 2012, 10:52 pm

    Hooray for Ada and to the women scientists & explorers (and the men who work well with them)! It’s a pleasure to have some simple heartening news today.

  4. Rhian Waller
    October 16, 2012, 10:28 am

    Hi Betty – this is actually a picture of the engraving by William Mote – there is also a painting of this engraving by Alfred Charon. Both are wonderful portraits of this amazingly talented woman!

  5. Betty A Toole
    San Francisco
    October 16, 2012, 9:29 am

    Enjoyed your article but the portrait is by A.E. Chalon. Ada loved to swim. Checkout adathe enchantress on facebook or http://www.adatheenchantress.com