Ep 13: Flexible solar cells, how a piano inspired wifi, and the inspirational role of science fiction

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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

00:46: Dr Jess Wade explains plastic electronics and how they are revolutionising solar power generation, amongst other things.

30:45: We explore the invention of frequency hopping, a technique for protecting a radio signal by rapidly changing which frequency it is transmitted on, spreading the signal out over a wide band of the radio spectrum.

34:17: Author Robin Sloan talks about the work of Ann Leckie, her award winning book, Ancillary Justice, and how fiction inspires science.

Our interviewees

Dr Jess Wade

Dr Jess WadeDr Jess Wade is a post doctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Centre for Plastic Electronics at Imperial College London focused on light emitting didoes. She is also a member of the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Young Women’s Board and is working with the young members board of the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to design a PDF resource for schools outlining how awesome jobs in engineering are (the theme is ‘engineer a better world’).

Jess has also worked with the Institute of Physics on their Improving Gender Balance project, and with a new EU-collaboration led by the Association of Science Centres called ‘Hypatia’ looking at gender balance in educational initiatives across the EU. She is involved with the Further Maths Support Network and the Stimulating Physics Network CPD, both of which focus on helping teachers, and the Turinglab, which offers free coding classes to girls in years 7 to 10. She has done fundraising for the Institute for Research in Schools, whose Amazing Atmosphere project, funded by the UK Space Agency, launched recently at the Eden Project.

Jess is planning a series of wikithons across the country for summer 2017, adding the stories of inspiring women in chemistry that have been lost to old journals and archives. If you’d like to take part, do get in touch with her.

You can read more about the work of the Imperial plastics electronics team on their website, and find out more about Jess at Making Physics Fun. And you can follow her on Twitter @jesswade.

Robin SloanRobin Sloan

Robin Sloan is an American best-selling author whose first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, hit the New York Times Hardcover Fiction Best Seller list and the NPR Hardcover Fiction Bestseller List in 2012.

Between 2002 and 2012, Robin worked at Poynter, Current TV, and Twitter, and says that his job “had something to do with figuring out the future of media”. He is “interested in content (words, pictures, ideas) who also experiments with new formats, new tools, and new technology”.

Ann LeckieYou can find out more about Robin on his website, and can follow him on Twitter @robinsloan.

Robin was talking about science fiction author Ann Leckie, whose first novel, Ancillary Justice, won the Hugo, Nebula, and the Arthur C. Clarke Award. She then went on to write two sequels to Ancillary Justice: Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy. You can follow her on Twitter @ann_leckie.


Discovery of the month

Hedy LamarrThis month, we explore the invention of frequency hopping, a technique for protecting a radio signal by rapidly changing which frequency it is transmitted on, spreading the signal out over a wide band of the radio spectrum. Hollywood actress Hedy Lamarr and her collaborator avante-garde musician George Antheil were awarded a patent for their “Secret Communications System” in 1942, and it now underpins many communications technologies.


Competition winner

Storm in a TeacupIn March, we had a signed copy of Dr Helen Czerski’s Storm in a Teacup: The Physics of Everyday Life, to give away. In this, her newest book, Helen uses physics to answer some vexing questions, such as why does it take so long for ketchup to come out of a bottle? And, how do ducks keep their feet warm when they’re walking on ice?

We are happy to announce that the very lucky winner is Kirsty Burridge! Congratulations Kirsty!

If you want to see Helen talking about her book and her work, then get yourself along to the Hay Festival on 27 May, Cheltenham Science Festival on 7 June, or the British Humanist Association Convention on 10 June. More details on Helen’s website!

Thanks to our sponsor

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.

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.


Episode edited by Andrew Marks.

Our links

Opportunities to sponsor Ada Lovelace Day

This year, Ada Lovelace Day has some fantastic sponsorship opportunities on offer and we are very keen to find companies who want to support women in STEM. Available to sponsor are: 

  • Our website
  • Our monthly newsletter
  • The event – through vertical banners on stage and displays in the reception room, as well as through our goodie bag
  • A book, currently in editorial development, which will be published on ALD

Our community is a passionate one, full of women in technology and science in particular, as well as men, many of whom have daughters whom they want to have the same opportunities growing up as they did.

We have a global reach through our mailing list and grassroots events, which are organised independently around the world. The mailing list has 33 percent of subscribers in the US, 21 percent in the UK and 21 percent distributed around the rest of the world. It’s a similar story with our website, with US visitors accounting for 46 percent of visits, the UK 26 percent, and another 40 countries making up the remainder. Our Twitter followers are ever so slightly more British, with 36 percent of our followers in the UK, 35 percent in the US, and the remainder spread out across over 70 other countries. 

As a small volunteer-led organisation we punch well above our weight, getting widespread international press coverage on and around the day from the likes of Wired, BBC News, The Guardian, Huffington Post, the New Scientist, Forbes, National Geographic, BoingBoing, NBC News and Smithsonian.com.

Our current partners this year include Imperial College London and the Biochemical Society, but we also have relationships with many other organisations, both learned and grassroots, including the Women’s Engineering Society, BCSWomen, Who Made Your Pants, Element 14, Wikimedia UK Science Grrl, Trowelblazers and others. 

We have a fantastic evening event in London on 15 October featuring some really amazing speakers and performers, including: 

  • Fran Scott, TV science demo inventor
  • Professor Sophie Scott, neuroscientist
  • Leila Johnston, technology writer and maker
  • Professor Molly Stevens, bioengineer
  • Hazel Gibson, geologist
  • Chi Onwurah, MP 
  • Helen Arney, comedian (and compere)

We have achieved all this over the last four years with no budget at all. But that has to change for Ada Lovelace Day 2013 to reach its full potential.

If you would like to become a part of a movement that has tremendous grassroots support and every year sees such an amazing outpouring of goodwill, please email ALD founder, Suw Charman-Anderson directly. If you know anyone who might be in a position to help us, please do share this blog post with them. 

Want to run a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon? Come to our training event!

Wikimedia UKThis year for Ada Lovelace Day we are encouraging people to think about leaving a lasting legacy and one idea we’ve had is a Festival of Wikipedia where groups around the world spend time adding to and improving articles on Wikipedia that cover women in STEM. Although Wikipedia is a valuable resource on many subjects, women are still under-represented as both editors and subjects, and we’d like to take some steps to improve that.

Wikimedia UK is supporting a number of events including a training session to introduce Wikipedia to organisers and give them not only an understanding of how the site works but also tips and tricks for hosting a successful edit-a-thon. This free workshop will be held in London at Wikimedia UK’s headquarters on 7 September from 12noon to 6pm. There are only twelve places, so book yours now!

You can find out more about the training event, including agenda and background, on Wikimedia’s wiki.

If you are organising an event, please let us know by filling out this handy form! We are, of course, delighted to hear about any kind of event, whether or not it involves an edit-a-thon. In the past we’ve had everything from meet ups in the pub to talks to art exhibitions and guided tours around Ada Lovelace-related locations. (And don’t forget that  your event doesn’t have to be on Ada Lovelace Day itself if another nearby date is more convenient.)





Are you ready for Ada Lovelace Day 2013?

This year’s Ada Lovelace Day is just five months away, which means that it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to get involved this year. As usual, we are planning a live event in London on the evening of 15 October, but you can organise your own event, big or small, wherever you are. Last year we had over twenty grassroots events — everything from talks to art exhibitions, from pub meet-ups to conferences — held around the world, and this year we want to at least double that.

We would also like to leave a permanent legacy so, inspired by the huge success of last year’s Wikipedia Edit-A-Thons held by The Royal Society, Wikipedia Sweden and Harvard Law School, we would like to suggest that you organise your own Wikipedia editing event. Of course, if you’d prefer to do something else, that’s absolutely fine too!

Wikpedia is a key resource for millions of people, but women are sadly underrepresented, both as entry subjects and as participants. Wikipedia is easy to edit, so we would like to encourage both men and women to get together during October to add biographical information about notable women to the online encyclopaedia.

If you belong to a STEM-related group, why not ask the organisers to devote one meeting during the autumn to editing Wikipedia? Or offer to help put on a special Ada Lovelace Day meet-up for your edit-a-thon? If you don’t belong to any official groups, why not gather your friends together at a pub with wifi and help each other research and create new entries, or expand existing stub articles on notable women?

Five months may seem like a long way away, but now is the time to get organising. To help you, Wikipedia has a guide to running your own edit-a-thon, but if you have questions please leave them in the comments to this blog post so that we can answer them for everyone. We are also talking with Wikimedia UK to run a super-user training session so that groups that organise their own session can have one of their own trained up to help others learn how to edit.

We’ll have more information about possible training sessions in due course, but in the mean time, if you’re interested in running an edit-a-thon, now’s the time to get started with finding a venue and date. And remember, your event doesn’t have to be on Ada Lovelace Day itself but can be any convenient date around 15 October.

We’ll also provide a way for you to let us know when and where your event is, and will publicise it on the Finding Ada website, in our newsletters and on Twitter for you. Don’t forget to find someone to help you record the event, either  with video it or photos, so that your work can inspire others around the world!

Stay tuned for more info!

Maths speaker required for Ada Lovelace Day 2013

In an epic feat of planning ahead, the East Midlands branch of the Institute of Mathematics and its Applications (IMA) is searching for a female speaker to talk about the role of women (or a particular woman) in mathematics for an Ada Lovelace Day 2013 event.

They are looking for someone who could speak to a group of mathematicians and students interested in maths. Audience size would be up to 100, although that’s obviously difficult to predict. Traditionally the talks are held on a week-day evening at 7.30pm and typically last about 50 minutes. The venue would be a university in the East Midlands: Loughborough, Nottingham, Leicester, Derby or Nottingham Trent.

The IMA would be able to definitely cover travel expenses, and may be able to cover hotel costs although that would be confirmed nearer the time. The speaker would also be invited out for a meal either before or after the talk.

If interested, please email Carol Robinson directly.