ALD22: Dr Kateryna Yushchenko, Computer Scientist

Kateryna Yushchenko

Dr Kateryna Yushchenko

Kateryna Yushchenko, Катерина Ющенко, was a Ukrainian computer scientist who developed the Address programming language, one of the world’s first high-level languages.

Yushchenko was born in 1919, in Chyhyryn in central Ukraine. In 1937, her father was arrested as a Ukrainian nationalist (he later died in a gulag) and when her mother tried to prove his innocence she was arrested and imprisoned for ten years. Yushchenko had just started studying at Kyiv University, but was expelled as a “daughter of enemies of the people”. The only institution that would accept her on a full state scholarship was Samarkand University in Uzbekistan.

Moving back to Ukraine after WW2, she was awarded her PhD in 1950 by the Kyiv Institute of Mathematics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, the first woman in the USSR to get a PhD in physical and mathematical sciences in programming. She was a senior researcher for seven years, at which point she was appointed director of the Institute of Computer Science.

Two years later, the Institute bought the first MESM, or Small Electronic Calculating Machine, which was the first universally programmable computer in continental Europe, and Yushchenko was appointed head of the MESM laboratory. She realised that complex tasks could not be completed by the MESM, which had little memory and was very slow, without a high-level programming language, but that required a way for humans to program in that language.

To solve this problem, Yushchenko developed the Address programming language, which referred to memory cell addresses rather than numbers, several years before Fortran, COBOL or ALGOL. The Address programming language was used in most Soviet computers, including those that controlled the Apollo-Soyuz international space mission in 1975.

Yushchenko also worked on probability theory, algorithmic languages and programming languages, as well as developing automated data processing systems. She wrote a series of programming textbooks in the 1970s, including Elements of Programming, which was used across the USSR and the Eastern Bloc countries.

Further Reading

ALD22 Books: Sticky, Laurie Winkless

Sticky: The Secret Science of Surfaces, Laurie Winkless

You are surrounded by stickiness. With every step you take, air molecules cling to you and slow you down; the effect is harder to ignore in water. When you hit the road, whether powered by pedal or engine, you rely on grip to keep you safe. The Post-it note and glue in your desk drawer. The non-stick pan on your stove. The fingerprints linked to your identity. The rumbling of the Earth deep beneath your feet, and the ice that transforms waterways each winter. All of these things are controlled by tiny forces that operate on and between surfaces, with friction playing the leading role.

In Sticky, Laurie Winkless explores some of the ways that friction shapes both the manufactured and natural worlds, and describes how our understanding of surface science has given us an ability to manipulate stickiness, down to the level of a single atom. But this apparent success doesn’t tell the whole story. Each time humanity has pushed the boundaries of science and engineering, we’ve discovered that friction still has a few surprises up its sleeve.

So do we really understand this force? Can we say with certainty that we know how a gecko climbs, what’s behind our sense of touch, or why golf balls, boats and aircraft move as they do? Join Laurie as she seeks out the answers from experts scattered across the globe, uncovering a stack of scientific mysteries along the way.

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

About the Author

Laurie Winkless is an Irish physicist-turned-science-writer, currently based in New Zealand. After her post-grad, she joined the UK’s National Physical Laboratory as a research scientist, where she specialised in functional materials. She is an experienced science communicator, who loves talking about science in all forms of media. Since leaving the lab, Laurie has worked with scientific organisations, engineering companies, universities, and astronauts, amongst others. Her writing has featured in outlets including Forbes, Wired, Esquire, and The Economist, and her first book, Science and the City: The Mechanics Behind the Metropolis, was published by Bloomsbury Sigma in 2016.  

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @laurie_winkless

ALD22: Professor Neena Gupta, Mathematician

Neena Gupta

Professor Neena Gupta

Neena Gupta, born in India in 1984, is a mathematician specialising in commutative algebra and affine algebraic geometry. She is based at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI).

Gupta used to spend hours doing maths as a young girl and loved solving mathematical problems. She was initially taught by her mother before going to school and then college, graduating in Mathematics. She eventually received a PhD in algebraic geometry and then became a visiting scientist at the ISI. She took up a short fellowship at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research and then won an assistant professorship position from the Indian Department of Science and Technology, allowing her to return to the ISI. She is now an associate professor at the Theoretical Statistics and Mathematics Unit at ISI.

In 2014, Gupta solved the Zariski Cancellation Problem originally posed in 1949 by Oscar Zariski, who was a highly influential mathematician in algebraic geometry. The Zariski Cancellation Problem is considered to be one of the most difficult problems in maths, and was a topic that Gupta ruminated on while she was completing her PhD. She describes the problem thus: “The cancellation problem asks that if you have cylinders over two geometric structures, and that have similar forms, can one conclude that the original base structures have similar forms?”. For completing this problem, she was awarded the Young Scientists Award, with the Indian National Science Academy considering her work the best research they had seen in algebraic geometry in some time. 

Gupta has also won other awards for her work. She won the Saraswathi Cowsik Medal (2013), the Swarnajayanti Fellowship (2014), the A.K. Agarwal Award (2015), and the Ramanujan Prize for Young Mathematicians from Developing Countries (2021). She was also the youngest recipient of the highly coveted Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar (SSB) Prize in 2019, which is awarded by the Prime Minister of India and provides a monthly endowment until age 65. She is still studying Zariski today.

Further Reading

ALD22 Podcasts: Techish, Abadesi Osunsade & Michael Berhane

British tech founders Abadesi Osunsade (Hustle Crew) and Michael Berhane (POCIT) talk about the intersection of tech, pop culture and life. Recent episodes covered: 

  • Drama at Google & Meta all hands meetings
  • Everyone wants Instagram to be Instagram again
  • Finessing remote-work to suit your lifestyle
  • Apple’s new iOS 16 features
  • Sheryl Sandberg steps down as Meta (Facebook) COO

You can: 

Listen: on Apple Podcasts
Follow on Twitter: @techishpod @Abadesi @michaelberhane_
Visit their website:

ALD22: Dorothy Spicer, Aeronautical Engineer

Dorothy Spicer

Dorothy Spicer

Dorothy Spicer was an aviatrix and the first woman to earn an advanced qualification in aeronautical engineering.

Born in 1908, Spicer learnt to fly in 1929, when she was in her very early 20s. She took lessons at the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane Aerodrome, where she met pilot Pauline Gower. They became friends and started a business before flying in the Crimson Fleet air circus and then the British Hospitals’ air pageant together.

Spicer joined the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) in 1932, and studied for her ‘B’ engineers licence. She couldn’t access formal courses because women were barred from training at technical schools. But she persuaded Saunders Roe, which built the Spartan Aircraft plane she and Gower flew, to let her do the practical and theoretical training at their workshop in Cowes on the Isle of Wight. She was the first woman in the world to attain her ‘B’ licence.

She was also only the second woman to earn a ‘C’ licence, for ground engineers, after Amy Johnson. In 1935, she studied at Napier Engineering in Action and Cirrus Hermes in Hull to become the first woman to earn a ‘D’ licence. That licence authorised her to inspect, pass out and repair engines and airframes, and qualified her to build aircraft, airframes and engines from scratch and to approve the materials needed.

By this point, she was the first woman in the world to hold all four Air Ministry Ground Engineer’s licences.

In 1934, Spicer and Gower became the first all-female Air Ambulance crew, flying Gower’s three-seater plane as part of the Surrey Red Cross Brigade. They were the first Red Cross Air Ambulance anywhere in the world, and their Commandant was Mrs Victor Bruce, née Mildred Petre.

Two years later, she became the chief engineer for British Empire Air Displays, a flying circus that toured the UK. In 1937, She presented a paper on the “Selection and Treatment of Steels for Aero-Engines” at the WES conference.

A year later, despite having married, she took a job with the Air Registration Board and became the first woman in the British Empire to receive a technical appointment in civil aviation. In 1940, she became an air observer and research assistant with the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, where she worked on the development of new aircraft and aviation equipment.

She and her husband, Flight Lieutenant Richard Pearse, died on a commercial flight to Rio de Janeiro in 1946, when bad weather caused the plane they were on to crash into a mountain just ten miles from the airport. There were no survivors. She was just 38.

Spicer was a founding member of the Society of Licenced Aircraft Engineers, who created the Dorothy Spicer Memorial Award in her honour.

Further Reading