WoW Blog (Woman of the Week) Blog

WoW Blog (Woman of the Week)

Each week this blog will feature a prominent woman who made significant contributions to engineering or science. If you have any women you'd like us to feature please let us know and we'll do our best to include them.

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Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

Posted February 23, 2009 12:00 AM by Sharkles

Ada Byron, often known as Ada Lovelace or Lady Lovelace, was a self-described analyst and mathematician. She is also considered to be the first computer programmer.

Augusta Ada Byron was born on December 10, 1815 in Marylebone, London. Her father was the well-known romantic poet Lord Byron. It was her father who called her "Ada" as a baby. Her parents separated when Ada was just a month old, causing her father to leave England forever.

Early Life

Growing up, Ada Byron's mother tried to discourage her from becoming a poet like her father. Instead, she immersed Ada in mathematics, music, and science. Despite her studies, Byron's appreciation for the poetic was always underlying in her mathematics. It has been said that much of her understanding of mathematics was "laced with imagination, and described in metaphors".

For much for her childhood, Byron was ill and bedridden. Starting as young as 8 years old, she began having headaches that obscured her vision. In 1829, Byron was paralyzed after having the measles and was bedridden for nearly a year afterward. Throughout her illnesses, Bryon continued her education.

In 1832, Byron's mathematical abilities began to flourish. At age 17, she was introduced to Mary Somerville, a noted researcher and scientific author, who encouraged Byron in her studies.

The Beginning of Something Great

In 1834, Byron attended a dinner party at Somerville's home where she overheard Charles Babbage's idea for a new calculating engine – known as the difference engine and the analytical engine. Although few others seemed interested in Babbage's pitch, Byron was touched by the "universality of his ideas".

On July 8, 1835 Byron married William King, 8th Baron King who later became the 1st Earl of Lovelace – thus making her ""The Right Honourable the Countess of Lovelace" or "Lady Lovelace".

Byron, now Lovelace, continued to keep in contact with Charles Babbage. In 1842, she agreed to translate his technical presentations from French to English. By the time she was finished translating, the presentation had tripled in size from the addition of her own notes and observations.

Babbage was impressed with Lovelace's work, calling her the "Enchantress of Numbers". She wrote to him in 1843 asking for assistance working with Bernoulli numbers. In her request, she wrote ""I want to put in something about Bernoulli's Numbers...as an example of how an implicit function may be worked out by the engine, without having been worked out by human head and hand." The result of this work was widely accepted as the first computer program.

Legacy

Ada Lovelace died of cancer on November 27, 1852 at the age of 36.

Even though intellectual pursuits were not encouraged of women during her lifetime, Ada Byron remains known as a pioneer of the computer age. She is the only woman ever to have a programming language named after her – ADA was created by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) in the 1970s. The DoD military standard for the language, MIL-STD-1815, references the year of her birth.

In 1998, the British Computer Society (BCS) awarded a metal in the name of Ada Lovelace. In 2008, the BCS initiated an annual competition for women studying computer science.

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ada_Lovelace

http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/lovelace.html

http://www.scottlan.edu/Lriddle/women/love.htm

http://www.kerryr.net/pioneers/ada.htmEdit

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#1

Re: Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

02/23/2009 11:28 PM

There appears to be a numerical error in this article:

"In 1832, Byron's mathematical abilities began to flourish. At age 17, she was int"

"Ada Lovelace died of cancer on November 27, 1952 at the age of 36."

Otherwise she was 142 years old when she died, not 36, which would be quite amazing in itself!

Otherwise- great article. I was just having a conversation with a friend about ADA.

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#2
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Re: Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

02/24/2009 6:05 AM

1952 is when her legacy died but her soul probably died earlier may be back in 1852, did it?

I'm just guessing.

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Re: Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

02/24/2009 7:44 AM

Could be. I see I made a math error pointing out the math error! Hahahah. Should have been 137 though if you change the date to 1852 it works out to 37 but she probably died before her birthday making it 36 and then probably 136.

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#4
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Re: Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

02/24/2009 8:25 AM

Whoops! I was never very good at math... thanks for catching the error!

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#5

Re: Woman of the Week – Ada Byron, Lady Lovelace

02/24/2009 12:43 PM

I like this blog. I just saw an interesting documentary where the theory of relativity was a joint paper written by Einstein and his wife. From the documentary, she seemed much more intelligent than Einstein and very likely to have been a part of the original paper. It seems very probable given the circumstances of the age that she was pushed aside and never given her due credit.

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