In 1843, Ada Lovelace became the first person to publish what we would now call a computer program, a set of instructions to calculate Bernoulli’s Numbers, written for Charles Babbage’s unbuilt Analytical Engine. Lovelace had translated a paper about the Analytical Engine written in French by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea, and had at Babbage’s suggestion added her own notes explaining the potential of the Analytical Engine in depth.
The interactive notebook begins with the Gauss Schoolboy Problem:
As a young schoolboy, [German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss] was tasked with adding the first 100 integers, i.e. what is 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + … + 98 + 99 + 100? (The answer is 5,050.) Gauss reportedly produced the correct answer within seconds. How did he do this?
The workbook demonstrates how to calculate these numbers, and thus then how to calculate Bernoulli Numbers, “a sequence of rational numbers with deep connections to number theory.” From the workbook:
Back in the 1600s, people spent their lives making tables of sums of powers of integers. But Jakob Bernoulli pointed out that all such sums can be expressed as polynomials, with the coefficients being related to what are now called Bernoulli numbers. And in 1713, Bernoulli was proud to say that he had computed the first 10 Bernoulli numbers ‘in a quarter of an hour’—reproducing years of other people’s work.
Ada Lovelace was calculating these numbers by hand!
You can also scans of Lovelace’s letter to Babbage discussing the Bernoulli numbers at the end of the workbook.
In the latest of a series of articles on early women members of the Royal Astronomical Society published in Astronomy and Geophysics, Sara Russell asks how Agnes Mary Clerke, who never went to school or university, became a highly respected science writer whose achievements stand alongside those of Mary Somerville. This blog post is a summary of Russell’s article which looks at the life and achievements of Agnes Clerke, one of the few women to be made an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society at a time when they were barred from the Fellowship.
It is interesting that Agnes Clerke was compared to Mary Somerville. Like Somerville, Agnes was mainly educated at home, although her parents were more supportive of her interest in science than those of Mary Somerville. As an adult, Agnes Clerke had a degree of financial independence, in common with other women who were made honorary members. However, Agnes operated within limitations imposed by society as a whole and by the Royal Astronomical Society in particular.
It appears that Agnes was also critically aware of her own strengths and weaknesses; her loyalty to her family led her to turn down at least one prestigious offer of employment. Russell paints a picture of a woman who nevertheless made the most of opportunities available to her, by serving on the Council of the British Astronomical Association, and learning observational astronomy under the aegis of David Gill at the Cape of Good Hope.
Agnes Clerke had such breadth and depth of knowledge that she could write authoritatively about the history of astronomy as well as the new discipline of astrophysics. The Royal Astronomical Society finally recognised her remarkable body of work in 1903, when she was made an honorary member at the same time as her friend, Lady Margaret Huggins. Sara Russell poignantly speculates on what work Clerke could have carried out if more professional opportunities had been open to her.
We are always happy when we get to announce new sponsors, but I’m particularly happy when those sponsors choose also to support schools by sponsoring our Ada Lovelace Day Live Scholarships, providing free tickets for school parties that wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. This year, Mendeley is providing the support for several school groups to attend our science cabaret at The IET on 11 October.
Mendeley is a productivity tool for researchers that combines a reference manager and academic social network. It helps you build and manage a fully searchable library, find new and relevant articles, monitor and showcase your publications, and annotate, share and cite documents. By providing a secure, fast and simple way to stay up to date on literature and share information with other researchers, Mendeley enables easy collaboration and greater productivity. It will also support the search for potential collaborators and new research positions.
Welcome to the Ada Lovelace Day podcast, highlighting the work of women in STEM. Each month, we talk to women from around the STEM world about their careers, as well as talking to women and men, about historic and modern women’s achievements, discoveries, and inventions.
In this episode
01:23: Structural engineer Roma Agrawal tells us about her work on the iconic Shard skyscraper in London, and the challenges of retrofitting Victorian buildings.
26:15: Biological psychologist Dr Pete Etchells talks about the work of Dr Suzanne Gage, who investigates the relationships between recreational drug use and mental health.
Ada Lovelace Day Live!
ALD Live is an entertaining evening of geekery, comedy and music suitable for everyone over the age of 12. If you’d like to enjoy a taster, take a look at our videos from 2015, 2014 and 2013!
Roma Agrawal is a structural engineer was part of the team that built The Shard. She was awarded ‘Young Structural Engineer of the Year’ in 2011 by the Institution of Structural Engineers and was a finalist in the IET’s Young Woman Engineer award 2012. Roma works to raise awareness of engineering, correct the preconceptions about the field and inspire young people about STEM and engineering.
Dr Pete Etchells is a senior lecturer in biological psychology at Bath Spa University, and the science blog network coordinator for the Guardian, where he also writes for the psychology blog Head Quarters. He researches the effects of playing video games on mental health and behaviour, and more generally the effects of technology use on the brain and behaviour. You can follow Pete on Twitter: @peteetchells.
Pete’s subject this month was Dr Suzanne Gage, an epidemiologist who use the Children of the 90s dataset to investigate relationships between recreational drug use and mental health. She has a blog called Sifting the Evidence, which won the 2012 Science Blog prize.
This podcast is brought to you thanks to the generous support of ARM, our exclusive semiconductor industry sponsor. You can learn more about ARM on their website at ARM.com and you can follow them on Twitter at @ARMHoldings.
If you would like to join ARM as a sponsor of the Ada Lovelace Day Podcast, please email us.
Get in touch!
If you’d like to send us feedback about the show, or if you’d like to take part, please email us. We’re especially interested in hear from men who would like to talk to us about the women in STEM who have influenced them, especially those women who are less well known.
Barbara Becker explores the vital research undertaken by Margaret Huggins in the field of spectroscopy, the latest in a series of articles on early women members of the Royal Astronomical Society published in Astronomy and Geophysics.
Lady Margaret Huggins (Royal Astronomical Society)
Margaret Huggins’s renown is inextricably linked to that of her husband, the amateur astronomer, William Huggins (1824-1910). They married in September 1875, and collaborated at the Tulse Hill Observatory for the next thirty five years, focusing on spectroscopy and spectral photography. Margaret is most often presented as William’s subordinate assistant in a romanticised narrative of scientist and helpmeet that they themselves created. And yet the records that survive suggest Margaret may have been the driving force behind much of their work, and entered the marriage with considerable existing expertise in photographic observation. Much of William Huggins’s published work was based on their collaborative research and Margaret often produced the diagrams that appeared in these articles.
However, it wasn’t until 1889 that Margaret’s name appeared alongside her husband’s on a paper. Despite being awarded honorary membership of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1903, she has rarely been recognised as a scientist in her own right. This is, in part, due to Margaret’s own efforts to establish a historical legacy for her husband, and her desire for her contributions not to overshadow his work and also to retain the image of a respectable Victorian woman. Historians are just beginning to fully uncover the significant role that Margaret Huggins played both in shaping her husband’s research and in directing and carrying it out herself.