ALD23: The Sloth Lemur’s Song: Madagascar from the Deep Past to the Uncertain Present, Alison Richard

The Sloth Lemur’s Song: Madagascar from the Deep Past to the Uncertain Present, Alison Richard

A moving account of Madagascar told by a researcher who has spent over fifty years investigating the mysteries of this remarkable island.

Madagascar is a place of change. A biodiversity hotspot and the fourth largest island on the planet, it has been home to a spectacular parade of animals, from giant flightless birds and giant tortoises on the ground to agile lemurs leaping through the treetops. Some species live on; many have vanished in the distant or recent past. Over vast stretches of time, Madagascar’s forests have expanded and contracted in response to shifting climates, and the hand of people is clear in changes during the last thousand years or so. Today, Madagascar is a microcosm of global trends. What happens there in the decades ahead can, perhaps, suggest ways to help turn the tide on the environmental crisis now sweeping the world.

The Sloth Lemur’s Song is a far-reaching account of Madagascar’s past and present, led by an expert guide who has immersed herself in research and conservation activities with village communities on the island for nearly fifty years. Alison Richard accompanies the reader on a journey through space and time—from Madagascar’s ancient origins as a landlocked region of Gondwana and its emergence as an island to the modern-day developments that make the survival of its array of plants and animals increasingly uncertain. Weaving together scientific evidence with Richard’s own experiences and exploring the power of stories to shape our understanding of events, this book captures the magic as well as the tensions that swirl around this island nation.

About the author

Professor Dame Alison Richard received her undergraduate degree in Anthropology at Cambridge University, and her doctorate from London University. In 1972, she joined the faculty of Yale University, where she became professor of anthropology in 1986, chairing the Department of Anthropology from 1986 to 1990, and later serving as director of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, where she oversaw one of the most important university natural history collections in the USA. From 1994-2002, she served as Provost of Yale, with operational responsibility for the University’s financial and academic programs and planning. In 1998 she was named the Franklin Muzzy Crosby Professor of the Human Environment.

From 2003-2010, Professor Richard was Vice Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, a position carrying the responsibilities of university president. During her tenure, she led several major changes in university policy, reorganised management of the University’s endowment, expanded Cambridge’s global partnerships, and launched and completed a billion pound fund-raising campaign. Her achievements received recognition in 2010, when she was awarded a DBE (Dame Commander of the British Empire) for her services to Higher Education.

As a researcher, Professor Richard is widely known for her work and writings on the evolution of complex social systems among primates. This work has taken her to Central America, Northern Pakistan and, in particular, to the forests of Madagascar. Professor Richard has been working in Madagascar since 1970, when she spent 18 months studying the socioecology of sifaka, Propithecus verreauxi, for her PhD. Since 1984, in collaboration with colleagues in Madagascar and the US, her research has focused on the demography and social behavior of the sifaka population at Bezà Mahafaly, Madagascar. In 1975, with colleagues from the University of Antananarivo and Washington University, she launched the Bezà Mahafaly partnership for conservation, research and training, and she has been deeply involved in that activity ever since.

Professor Richard is a trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Liz Claiborne & Art Ortenberg Foundation. She chairs the Advisory Board of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and the Leadership Council of the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, and serves on the Advisory Board of Arcadia. She has received numerous honorary doctorates, and in 2005 she was appointed Officier de l’Ordre National in Madagascar.

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Professor Hao Yichun, Palaeontologist

Professor Hao Yichun

Hao Yichun, 郝诒纯, was a Chinese geologist who played a central role in establishing palaeontology as a discipline in her home country. The co-author of China’s first palaeontology textbooks, she was recognised for pioneering the fields of stratigraphy, micropaleontology and paleoceanography. Her research helped illuminate China’s geological history, including the secrets of ancient marine organisms, and supported the exploration of energy resources.

Hao was born in 1920 in Hubei, central China. She studied geology at National Southwest Association University before completing a postgraduate degree in stratigraphic palaeontology (which combines the study of fossils with that of rock layers) at Tsinghua University, Beijing.

In 1946, Hao was hired by Peking University (now Beijing University) to lecture in geology, optical mineralogy and engineering geology. She transferred to the Beijing Institute of Geology in 1952, where she rose to the rank of associate professor and co-founded the major in stratigraphic palaeontology.

Hao was a prolific publisher of scientific research, and in 1956 co-authored Paleontology, China’s first ever academic textbook on the subject. Over her career, she embarked on numerous gruelling geological surveys in far-flung parts of China, mapping out ancient rock layers in the northeast and southwest of the country. Her stratigraphic research spanned the Mesozoic (including Jurassic-Cretaceous) and Cenozoic periods. She is especially recognised for furthering paleontological understandings of foraminifera, single-celled, shelled organisms mostly found in seawater.

Involved with the Chinese Communist Party since childhood, Hao was interested in how her research could enhance national energy infrastructure. She established courses on petroleum geology at the Institute of Geology and spearheaded the production of geological maps that supported the development of coal fields in China.

Her work also took her on research trips to countries that had friendly relationships with China, such as Cuba and the USSR. She was a visiting scholar at Moscow University from 1957 to 1959, a period during which she travelled to the Caucasus and Crimea to continue her studies of foraminifera, ostracods and their biostratigraphy.

Later in her career, Hao was made a professor at the China University of Geosciences, Beijing, and served as chairwoman of China’s Palaeontological and Micropalaeontological Societies. In 1980, she became an academician in the Academic Division of Earth Sciences of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Hao died on 13 June 2001, aged 80 or 81. The same year, a genus of pterodactyloid pterosaur discovered in Liaoning, China – the haopterus – was named in her honour. Another pterosaur found in Mongolia, Otogopterus haoae, has since been named in recognition of Hao’s “outstanding contributions on the Mesozoic palaeontology and stratigraphy in China”.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Dr Valeria de Paiva, Mathematician and Computer Scientist

Dr Valeria de Paiva

Dr Valeria Correa Vaz de Paiva is a Brazilian mathematician, logician, computer scientist and computational linguist who introduced the concept of dialectica spaces, a way of modelling the linear logic that is used in advanced programming languages. She has spent many years working in industry at major natural language processing (NLP) labs, ensuring that “language technologies are taken seriously by the AI scientists and engineers and conversely that the engineer’s concerns are heard by the linguists.”

De Paiva grew up in Rio de Janeiro and initially started university studying both journalism and law. After moving on to physics, she eventually realised that what she “liked in physics was the mathematics underlying it”.

She earnt her PhD in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in 1988. Her thesis defined the concept of dialectica spaces, a new way of constructing models of linear logic, a logical form that has been influential in fields including linguistics, programming languages and quantum physics.

Since 2020, De Paiva has been the principal research scientist at the Topos Institute in Berkeley, California, a mathematical and computer science research lab that aims to “advance the sciences of connection and integration by looking at the mathematical frameworks of computation”. She is also a council member of the the Division of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science And Technology with the title Ambassador of Logic, and a lecturer in introductory logic and specifications at Santa Clara University.

Previously, De Paiva worked at top industry NLP labs in the US, including at Samsung Research America, Nuance, Deem, Cuil and Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). She was also a professor of theoretical computer science at the University of Birmingham in the UK and lectured at Stanford University.

De Paiva’s mathematics research involves work on logical approaches to computation, especially applying category theory (the study of mathematical structure and abstraction) to the logics of language. Among many other strands of logic, she has also worked on knowledge representation – how knowledge can be expressed in a computer-readable manner – and natural language semantics, or the study of grammatical meaning in human language. Her goal is to “build logics that reflect the way language is used”.

Encouraging more women into STEM fields, particularly logic, is a key priority for de Paiva. She plays a key role in Women In Logic (WIL), an organisation working to help foster gender parity in the heavily male-dominated field. De Paiva organised the first WIL workshop in Iceland in 2017 and maintains the organisation’s online presence. She also supports the ACM-W Scholarship programme, which enables women undergraduate and graduate students in computer science and related fields to attend research conferences. Her blog, Logic ForAll, aims to make the subject more accessible.

Her goal, she has said, is to build logics that reflect the way language is used and dealt with, “and whose proofs provide traces that make it understandable by people”.

Twitter: @valeriadepaiva

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

A century of women at the Royal Institution

The Ri is celebrating 100 years since Joan Evans gave the first presentation by a woman, making it the perfect venue for the 15th Ada Lovelace Day.

This year is marks the 100th anniversary of the first presentation by a woman at the Royal Institution – archaeologist Joan Evans, who was an expert in English jewellery from the fifth to the 17th centuries, gave a Discourse in June 1923 titled “Jewels of the Renaissance” – making it the perfect setting for the 15th celebration of Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace herself attended lectures at the Ri, in the very theatre where ALD 2023 will be taking place this year and the same theatre where Michael Faraday first demonstrated many of his discoveries. The Ri is still home to his original laboratory and his collection of notes, which are preserved as part of their internationally significant collection, on display in the Ri’s free museum.

Lovelace was keen to receive tutelage from Faraday, writing to him several times, and their letters can still be seen today at the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Sadly for Lovelace, Faraday declined her request.

The Ri is not just a home for science where everyone is welcome, it continues to champion the known and unknown contributions of women to science. It has hosted many amazing female speakers, including:

And if that’s not enough inspiration, the Ri has this compilation of 10 mind-blowing science talks by women.

Notable members and fellows of the Royal Society include Katherine Lonsdale, a pioneering scientist, especially known for her groundbreaking work on x-ray crystallography, who worked at the Ri at numerous points throughout her career; Angela Burdett-Coutts, “the wealthiest woman in England after Queen Victoria” and campaigner for children’s education, whose application was signed Michael Faraday; and Agnes Clerke, renowned astronomer and author of A Popular History of Astronomy during the Nineteenth Century.

If podcasts are more your speed, then try these two episodes: Tackling climate change with innovation features the Ri’s Director Katherine Mathieson in conversation with Alyssa Gilbert, the Director of Undaunted, a partnership with Imperial College London that supports climate-positive startups; How did patriarchy develop across the world?, in which award-winning science journalist Angela Saini and former Australian prime-minister Julia Gillard discussed the roots of gendered oppression.

The Ri has long championed women in science and it’s an honour for Ada Lovelace Day to be returning to the venue for the third time with our science cabaret, featuring some of the smartest and most innovative women in STEM from across the UK: Prof Jennifer Rohn, urologist; Dr Anjana Khatwa, Earth scientist and presenter; Dr Sophie Carr, mathematician; Dr Aarathi Prasad, writer, broadcaster, and geneticist; Dr Azza Eltraify, senior software engineer; Dr Antonia Pontiki, biomedical engineer; Rosie Curran Crawley, presenter.

Join us in person or online, on Tuesday 10 October for seven fascinating talks that will entertain, inform and surprise you.

Ada Lovelace Day is back on 10 October 2023!

Thanks to generous support from The Royal InstitutionStylistRedgate, The Information Lab’s Data School and dxwAda Lovelace Day Live 2023 will now go ahead on the evening of Tuesday 10 October.

The Royal Institution will be hosting ALD Live as part of their autumn program of public events, and Stylist have come on board as our media partner, providing outreach and promotional support.

“We’re delighted to be hosting this year’s Ada Lovelace event at the Royal Institution,” said Katherine Mathieson, Director of the Royal Institution. “We’re looking forward to welcoming a wide range of people on the day, in-person and online, to meet and celebrate some inspirational women working in computing and technology. It’s a perfect fit for our mission of bringing people and scientists together to celebrate their interest and passion for science. We’re a home for science and everyone is welcome.”

“When we heard that Ada Lovelace Day was under threat we wanted to help save it,” said Lisa Smosarski, Editorial Director at Stylist. “As a champion of gender equality, we had always admired the day as a truly authentic way of championing women in STEM and for showcasing the pioneering work of women like Ada. Considering women are still hugely underrepresented in this field, this day is still very important and much needed. By adding the Stylist brand network and influential audience, we’re thrilled the day will run in 2023 and for many more years to come.”

Over the next twelve months, we will be working hard to build an Ada Lovelace Day that can serve women and girls in STEM long into the future. As part of that work, we are relaunching our newsletter on Substack, where we’ll keep you up to date on Ada Lovelace Day news, as well publishing profiles of women in STEM and highlighting books and podcasts by and about women in STEM. We will also have a membership option for those who would like to support us financially, so sign up now and pledge your support. We do still need additional sponsors, so if your company wants to get involved, drop Suw Charman-Anderson a line.

We are delighted to be back and we hope you’ll join us at the Royal Institution in October for a fascinating and entertaining evening featuring seven women in STEM who will share their experiences, insights and expertise and whose stories we hope will inspire and empower the next generation.