ALD21 Archive: Using maths to model music – Professor Elaine Chew, 2015

Using maths to model music – Professor Elaine Chew, 2015

Professor Elaine Chew demonstrates how she uses mathematical and computational models, with scientific visualisation, to explain what musicians do. 

Elaine Chew is a Visiting Professor at King’s College London, and senior researcher at the Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique/Musique (IRCAM) in France. A classically trained pianist and operations researcher, she uses mathematical and computational models, with scientific visualisation, to explain what musicians do. She was a 2005 (US) National Science Foundation-nominated honoree of the Presidential Early Career Award For Scientists And Engineers and 2007-2008 recipient of the Edward, Frances, and Shirley B. Daniels Fellowship at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. She has the unique honour of having appeared twice in Ignobel presentations: as pianist in the Duct Tape Opera and as scientist-musician in a technical analysis of PDQ Bach.

You can follow her work here:


Recorded at the IET and sponsored by Digital Science, you can watch the rest of the Ada Lovelace Day Live 2015 playlist here.

ALD21: Maria Sibylla Merian, Naturalist and Scientific Illustrator

Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria Sibylla Merian was a naturalist and scientific illustrator, one of the first researchers to systematically observe insects and the first person to document the process of metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly or moth. She also discovered that caterpillars ate only specific plants, and that the butterfly would therefore lay eggs near these plants. She observed the way that some larvae shed their skins, detailed how larvae spun their cocoons, and made many other observations that had not been recorded before.

Born in 1647 in Germany, Merian made major contributions to entomology and was one of the first ecologists. Her observations were very detailed, for example, she identified the differences between male and female adult insects and examined their full life-cycle. In one notable illustration, she shows all the steps of the silkworm moth life-cycle.

In 1679, a year after the birth of her second daughter, Merian published Der Raupen wunderbarer Verwandlung (The Wondrous Transformation of Caterpillars), the result of almost two decades of observations. Merian illustrated her book about caterpillars herself, composing complex, lifelike scenes, where several insects interact with each other.

In 1699, Merian travelled with her youngest daughter to Suriname in South America and spent two years collecting specimens. Expeditions for scientists at that time were quite uncommon, and women especially did not travel to a different continent on their own. The outcome from her research justified the trip: her seminal work Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium, (Metamorphosis of Surinamese Insects), which describes the plant and animal life of Suriname.

Further reading

ALD21 Podcasts: Handmade, Anna Ploszajski

Handmade, Anna Ploszajski

Handmade is a podcast which explores the personal connections we all have with the materials around us. Anna Ploszajski started Handmade four years ago when she realised that, although she is theoretically a materials expert, she didn’t actually know anything really about materials, like how to turn a pot on the wheel, or forge a steel bar or spin wool into yarn. This podcast features conversations with materials experts who do. 

Handmade now has over 80 interviews with makers, craftspeople, artists and enthusiasts all with a love of handmaking with materials and looks at materials including synthetic diamond, leather, ceramics, clothing, musical instruments, wood, dyes and more.

Recent episodes feature interviews with: 

  • Steph Couturier on stained glass;
  • Hester Hamilton, costume-maker and burlesque performer;
  • Sophie Cotterill about her craft of weaving;
  • artist and designer Frances Priest about her work with ceramics; and,
  • Shannon Nicley on synthetic diamonds.

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @AnnaPloszajski and @rialtalk

ALD21: Ángela Ruiz Robles, Writer and Inventor

Ángela Ruiz Robles

Ángela Ruiz Robles invented and, in 1948, patented the la Enciclopedia Mecánica, or Mechanical Encyclopaedia, which is considered to be an early version of an ebook. She couldn’t build a prototype until 1962; it is now exhibited in the National Museum of Science and Technology in A Coruña, Spain.

The mechanical book displayed content on three scroll-like reels that could be wound forwards or backwards across a central ‘page’. The reels were interchangeable, so content was customisable. The book came with a built-in light to facilitate reading in the dark, and it also supported sounds. The size of an ordinary book, it was enclosed by two box-like covers.

Ruiz Robles developed the Mechanical Encyclopaedia for her students so that they would not have to carry heavy books around. She believed her device would make learning more attractive by allowing her to adapt the learning materials to the specific needs of the individual student. The content reels could be produced in any language, and about any subject at any level, and teachers could produce their own content for it.

Ultimately, despite several trips to Madrid to try to find backing, she was unable to fund production or find a production partner.

In 1947, she received the Cross of Alfonso X the Wise for her innovations in education and social work, and in 1952 she was awarded a Gold Medal at an exhibition for Spanish inventors.

Further reading

ALD21 Books: The Disordered Cosmos, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Science, like most fields, is set up for men to succeed, and is rife with racism, sexism, and shortsightedness as a result. But as Dr Chanda Prescod-Weinstein makes brilliantly clear, we all have a right to know the night sky. One of the leading physicists of her generation, she is also one of the fewer than one hundred Black women to earn a PhD in physics.

You will enjoy – and share – her love for physics, from the Standard Model of Particle Physics and what lies beyond it, to the physics of melanin in skin, to the latest theories of dark matter — all with a new spin and rhythm informed by pop culture, hip hop, politics, and Star Trek. This vision of the cosmos is vibrant, inclusive and buoyantly non-traditional.

By welcoming the insights of those who have been left out for too long, we expand our understanding of the universe and our place in it. The Disordered Cosmos is a vision for a world without prejudice that allows everyone to view the wonders of the universe through the same starry eyes.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

You can follow her work here: