Celebrate Women in STEM on Ada Lovelace DayOctober 16, 2012
October 16th is Ada Lovelace Day, an occasion that celebrates the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) throughout history. Named for Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, who was a pioneer in the field of scientific computing, the day is a chance to spread the word that women can and do change the face of science with their ideas and innovations.
In the history of scientific research and discovery, women’s contributions have often been overlooked, undervalued, omitted from textbooks, skipped over for awards, and even falsely attributed to their male peers. Young girls today who are captivated by STEM are not only facing the stereotype that boys are naturally better than girls at math and science — but girls also lack historical role models to guide their aspirations and show that girls just like them have gone on to do great things in STEM.
In 2009, British blogger Suw Charman-Anderson pledged to write about a woman in STEM if 1,000 other people agreed to do the same. In fact, almost 2,000 people did. The Internet lit up with blog posts, articles, art, and web comics for the first Ada Lovelace Day. This year, on October 16, everyone who knows of a great woman scientist has the chance to tell the story.
So we’ll start by telling the story of the woman who inspired this day of appreciation for women in STEM. Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 to the poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. Encouraged by her mother, Lovelace developed an interest in science and mathematics at a young age. She spent her childhood reading about the Industrial Revolution and drafting her own concepts for inventions like steam-powered flying machines.
Lovelace’s mentor, Mary Somerville, was a respected scientific researcher who overcame societal biases to make great strides in mathematics and astronomy. In 1833, Somerville introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage, who was working on plans for his analytical engine, a massive mechanical computing machine that would carry out programs by reading holes punched on cards.
Lovelace saw the potential, learned Babbage’s computing language, and wrote a letter to him containing the first-ever computer algorithm — she was the world’s first computer programmer. The analytical engine was never completed, but Lovelace’s vision was prescient: Alan Turing used her notes in the development of the first modern computers in the 1940s — nearly 100 years later!
The purpose of Ada Lovelace Day is to increase awareness about women in STEM. There are plenty of ways to join in:
- Read about women in STEM. The first computer program was written by a woman. What else can you learn about the history of women’s achievements in STEM?
- Share what you learned. Tell the world about your women STEM heroes and role models — write a blog post or article. Post on Facebook or write a tweet. Join the Wikipedia edit-a-thon and add or improve an article about a woman in STEM.
- Use your creative talents. Science and creativity do go together! Share a painting, write a song, make a video, or draw a comic celebrating women in STEM.
It’s easy to join in the celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, and it’s a great way to show girls that women in science can succeed, achieve, and be remembered.