Today, the 16th of October, is Ada Lovelace Day. You’d be forgiven for not having heard of Ada Lovelace, or of this celebration each October. It’s one of the more unusual dates, but if you’re one of the many (yet still minority of) women in science, this is a day you recognize, and a day that recognizes you.
Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born in Britain in 1815, not a time known for women scientists. Raised in a household of science and mathematics, in 1833 Ada began to work with Charles Babbage (the “father of the computer”), who called Ada affectionately, the “Enchantress of Numbers.” The pair worked on Babbage’s theoretical Analytical Engine, an unrealized precursor to the modern computer, and Ada is recognized as publishing the very first computer programs. It is Ada’s work that inspired Alan Turing, who built the first modern computer in the 1940’s.
Ada was a strong lady, who followed her scientific and technological passions, much the scandal at the time. Interests outside the home and ‘society’ were much frowned upon, as well as working with men who were not her husband. Ada has become a symbol for us women in science, to keep going when times are tough, to follow the scientific method, to follow your passion.
The numbers are changing, there are more women in science today than there have ever been, but we are still a minority. I am lucky to be in the field of marine biology, where there are more women than in most scientific fields, yet most departments in the U.S. see less than 20% women faculty, and even fewer tenured. I am always encouraged by the young and enthusiastic women I see through my laboratory – the undergraduates, the graduate students and the postdocs. There are challenges ahead for them, but if you have the passion and drive, you can do anything.
Here’s to all the women scientists and explorers out there – keep up the good work!