Friday, October 17, 2014

5 Women to Remember in our Man-Dominated History on Ada Lovelace Day

The 14th of October marks Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Since the chosen date is claimed to be arbitrary, talking about women's achievements on the 17th should not be a big deal.

Our history is male-dominated - flooded with male figures who have done something, many times done nothing but claimed something anyway. Today we chose the stories of 5 women, among many, who should be a big part of our history.

1. Ada Lovelace

Ada was raised by her mathematics-loving mother, Annabella Milbanke, under a strict regimen of science, logic, and mathematics, making sure she doesn't inherit her father's volatile poetic temperament.

Ada Lovelace, image source:

Since her childhood, she had a love for machines, and later became close friends with the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, Charles Babbage. The latter had sketches for the Analytical Engine, a complex device which "was to combine the array of adding gears of his earlier Difference Engine with an elaborate punchcard operating system." The design was never built but it had the "essential elements for a modern computer."

Ada worked on that project and she had the most elaborate and complete sketches of that engine, which gave her the title "the first computer programmer" (and she lived long before Steve Jobs and Bill Gates). The sketches were published in the "Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator", and they helped inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers after almost a century.

2. Dr. Dian Fossey

Fossey founded the Karisoke™ Research Center in Rwanda’s Virungas Mountains in 1967, to protect and study the endangered mountain gorillas, after her first journey to Africa in 1963; she spent her entire life-savings for that.

Dian Fossey, image source:

In 1977, she established the Digit Fund to raise money for gorilla protection, after her favorite gorilla, Digit, was killed by poachers. Dian was murdered a few years later in 1985.

In 1988, a movie was made based on her book, Gorillas in the Mist. Sigourney Weaver played her character, and later became the honorary chairperson of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.

3. Sally Ride

Sally double majored in Physics and English at Stanford University. She was a superstar tennis player at college, but what she is famous at is being the first American Woman in space. In 2001, she established a company Sally Ride Science that creates educational programs and products aimed at encouraging the study of Science and Math among girls and young women.

Sally Ride, image source: Nasa


4. Maria Sklodowska

She is known as Marie Curie (Sklodowska is her maiden name). She and her husband Pierre were inspired by Henri Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity in 1896 to isolate polonium (named after Marie's country of birth) and radium. The latter was used to relieve pain, and Marie devoted herself especially during World War I, with the help of her daughter, to this remedial work. In 1929, Marie received a $50000 donation from the American friends of science. The gift was presented by US President Hoover, and she used it to purchase radium for her radioactivity laboratory in her native city, Warsaw.

Marie Curie, image source:

Marie's honorable works are apparent in the various awards she received in science, medicine and law. Among which are a half Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, which she won along with her husband for their "study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel," who got the second half. She was also awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911, for her work in radioactivity.

5. Maria Telkes

Telkes has a doctrate in physical chemistry from the University of Budapest. She worked there as an instructor, then she spent 12 years working under Dr. George Crile on a series of experiments before they invented "a photoelectric mechanism capable of recording brain waves."

Maria Telkes, image source:

Maria is rather known as an innovator who worked to put the solar energy into use. In 1940, she teamed up with Eleanor Raymond, an architect, where they built the first solar-heated house. She used a chemical that crystallizes and keeps a constant temperature through retaining heat and radiating it back.

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