STEM Matters: #AdaLovelaceDay – celebrating the achievements of women in STEM...

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

04 November 2019

Ada Lovelace Day Live! 2019

As I thought about a topic for this month’s column (writing at the end of September), I realised that this year’s Ada Lovelace Day was coming up fast. This annual event is held the second Tuesday of each October, after being founded 10 years ago by prominent blogger, journalist & co-founder of the Open Rights Group, Suw Charman-Anderson.

This column was originally featured in the November 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

Celebrating the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, it aims to raise the profile of women in STEM and, by doing so, create new role models to encourage more girls into STEM careers – as well as supporting women already working in the sector.

Many of you will already be familiar with Ada Lovelace, the 19th century English mathematician often regarded as the first computer programmer for her work on Charles Babbage’s proposed mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Ada was the first to recognise that the machine had applications beyond pure calculation, creating the first algorithm intended to be carried out by such a machine. The Analytical Engine remained only a vision until Lovelace’s notes became one of the critical documents to inspire Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers in the 1940s. Lovelace died of cancer at just 36, and her thwarted potential, as well as her passion and vision for technology, have made her a powerful symbol for modern women in STEM.

The inspiration for Ada Lovelace Day came from psychologist, Penelope Lockwood, who carried out a study which found that women need to see female role models more than men need to see male role models. “Outstanding women can function as inspirational examples of success,” she said, “illustrating the kinds of achievements that are possible for women around them. They demonstrate that it is possible to overcome traditional gender barriers, indicating to other women that high levels of success are indeed attainable.

Ada Lovelace Day aims to raise the profile of women in STEM by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. It helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike. It features a flagship Ada Lovelace Day Live! ‘science cabaret’ event open to the public in London, UK, at which women in STEM give short talks about their work or research, alongside comedy and musical interludes with a STEM theme. This year’s event was held on Tuesday 8th October at Savoy Place, home of The IET in London. The events can be viewed on demand on YouTube or via the official website: http://findingada.com/

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

This year’s ALD Live! event line-up included astrophysicist, Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell (who, as a postgraduate student, co-discovered the first radio pulsars in 1967), ecologist, Dr Bala Chaudhary, mathematician, Katie Steckles, bio-physicist, Yolanda Ohene, marine engineer, Hayley Loren, chartered engineering geologist, Roni Savage, and evolutionary biologist and science communicator, Dr Sally Le Page. The compère was once again ‘geek songstress’ and one third of Festival of the Spoken Nerd, Helen Arney.

In addition to ASD Live!, there are dozens of independently organised grassroots events around the world. These events take many forms – from conferences to Wikipedia ‘edit-a-thons’ to pub quizzes – and appeal to all ages, from school-age girls to university students to women with well-established careers. Every year, people in countries across six continents put on their own event to support women in their own communities – and the Finding Ada website attempts to list them all on a map.

To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, six young female engineers have also been announced as finalists for the Institution of Engineering and Technology’s (IET) Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards 2019. These prestigious engineering industry awards celebrate women working in modern engineering – and aim to help change the perception that engineering is predominantly a career for men by banishing outdated engineering stereotypes of hard hats and dirty overalls.

Congratulations to Amber O’Connor (Equipment Health Monitoring & Performance Engineer, and Engineering Programme Manager for Siemens Aeroderivative Gas, 25), Charlotte Buffey (Material Laboratories Apprentice at Rolls-Royce, 21), Dr Claire Lucas (Associate Professor of Systems & Information Engineering at the University of Warwick, 33), Samantha Magowan (Applications Engineer at Dale Power Solutions, 21), Shrouk El-Attar (electronic design engineer for large robotic machines at Renishaw, 27) and Ying Wan Loh (Manufacturing Engineer at Rolls-Royce, 28), who have all been shortlisted for the awards.

As well as highlighting female engineering talent, the IET Young Woman Engineer of the Year Awards seek to find role models who can help address the UK science & engineering skills crisis by promoting engineering careers to more girls and women. Just 12% of those currently working in engineering occupations are women (source: Engineering UK). The winner will be announced at the IET YWE of the Year Awards ceremony on Thursday 5 December at IET London: Savoy Place.


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