Karen Spärck Jones: Unravelling natural language

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Bill Thompson

The renowned computer scientist Karen Spärck Jones died in 2007, aged only seventy-one. Her husband Roger Needham, another computer scientist who she’d married in 1958, had died of cancer in 2003 shortly after his sixty-eighth birthday. I wrote her obituary for The Times, as I’d written Roger’s four years earlier. I’d written an obituary for their colleague David Wheeler in 2004, and already had Maurice Wilkes’ on file, though it wasn’t needed until 2010 as he lived to be ninety-seven.

Although writing obituaries was never a full-time occupation, as a technology journalist with a computing degree I was regularly commissioned by The Times to cover well-known figures in the computing industry or computer science, and these four clearly merited coverage in “the paper of record”. After all, Spärck Jones, Needham, Wheeler and Wilkes had been key members of the generation th...

 

 

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Dr Florence Bascom: Sounding the abyss of science

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Jessica Ball

Florence Bascom would have been a remarkable woman in any age, but in her own time she was an outstanding proponent of science and women’s place in it. The field of geology was in its infancy in the 19th century, and Dr Bascom was a pioneer, not only in that she was a woman demanding a position among men, but also in her mastery of the foundational skills of petrography and crystallography, and her uncompromising standards for the geologists she trained and who succeeded her. As a woman pursuing geology for my own career, I find much in Florence Bascom to admire, and look on her as a kindred spirit in my own love of studying the Earth.

Bascom was born in 1862 and had a great advantage in her family: her parents had both studied at seminaries. Her mother, a schoolteacher, was active in women’s clubs and the newly growing feminist movement, and her father led an academic ...

 

 

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Introducing our new Four Week Intensive Mentoring Program

Today we launch our new Four Week Intensive Mentoring Program for women in STEM, which is based on the successful mentoring work we’ve been doing with the Finding Ada Network over the last year.

This transformational mentoring engagement will help mentees tackle one issue or work towards one key goal over the course of the month. It will also introduce mentors to the mentoring process and help them hone their leadership and communications skills.

And it’s a very convenient and easy way to introduce mentoring into an organisation. Once participants are recruited, we do all the rest.

We provide support to mentors and mentees throughout the program, with advice on how to get the best out of a mentoring experience, how to think about and set goals, and clear guidance on how to use our mentoring tools. Mentors and mentees will need to dedicate about six hours to the program over the month.

The launch price of the Four Week Intensive Mentoring Program is £995 for 20 participants (10 mentors and 10 mentees). To find out more or make a booking, email Suw Charman-Anderson.

“The Crow”: Poland’s radio girl

Aleks Krotoski, photographed by Greg Funnell on behalf of Geek Calendar

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention

by Aleks Krotoski

The radio was hidden in the wardrobe. The wardrobe, a beautiful piece that was part of a set of bedroom furniture hand-carved from birch wood by her father, now sits in the spare room in her Southern California home. The rest of the pieces, with their matching curves and hand-crafted clawed feet, are now in her bedroom, just as they were until 1939. She and her mother managed to save them all by stowing them in a neighbour’s attic when the Gestapo came to take the rest, and then in another neighbour’s attic when the Gestapo gutted that home too. She smuggled them out of the country when they escaped in 1945, piling them on top of the car her father found after they were reunited in Romania.

The radio was square with curved edges, an elegant piece which, by coincidence, matched the look and feel ...

 

 

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Dame Anne McLaren: From one generation to the next

Originally published in the ebook A Passion for Science: Stories of Discovery and Invention.

by Kat Arney

When I started my PhD at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, I was an ambitious, and probably quite insufferable, young thing straight out of university. At the other end of her scientific lifespan was Anne — more formally known as the Honourable Dame Anne Laura Dorinthea McLaren — who, even though in her 70s, was a regular and forceful presence in the lab and in our shared team meetings. Once I’d got over my arrogant assumption that this short but sprightly old lady had nothing to teach me, I became hugely respectful of her views and thoughts.

As a newly hatched scientist, I was learning my trade working with Professor Azim Surani. My research was embryonic in both senses of the word, as I tried to understand some of the earliest events that happen when life begins. Hour after hour I stared in fascination and frustration down a microscope watching perfectly spherical mouse...

 

 

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