Monday Morning Math: Ada Lovelace


Our Mathematician this week is Augusta Ada Byron, also known as Ada Lovelace.  She was born in London, England, on December 10, 1815, the daughter of the mathematically-inclined Anne Isabelle Milbanke and the poet George Gordon Byron (known more commonly as Lord Byron).  Her parents separated when she was a baby, and she was raised by her mother, who encouraged her in mathematics:

Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada’s complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life its wings.

From ScienceWomen

When Ada was 17 she met Charles Babbage at a party, and he talked about his Difference Machine, a (very) early version of a computer.  Ada and Charles exchanged letters for nearly 20 years, throughout Ada’s marriage to William King, the Earl of Lovelace, and the birth of her children Byron, Anne Isabella, and Ralph Gordon.  After  a mathematician Luigi Federico Menabrea published an article about another of Babbage’s inventions, the Analytic machine, Ada translated the article from French to English, including notes of her own that were longer than the original article:

Her translation, along with her notes, was published in 1843, and represent her greatest contribution to computer science: she described with clarity how Babbage’s device would work, illuminating its foundations in the Jacquard loom. Just as Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s silk-weaving machine could automatically create images using a chain of punched cards, so too could Babbage’s system—the engine, Lovelace explained, weaved algebraic patterns. She also wrote how it might perform a particular calculation: Note G, as it is known, set out a detailed plan for the punched cards to weave a long sequence of Bernoulli numbers, and is considered to be the first computer program. 

From The New Yorker

Ada died of cancer on November 27, 1852, when she was only 37 years old, and the computer language Ada is named in her honor

Like podcasts?  Then I recommend this episode about Ada Lovelace from The History Chicks.

Like biographies?  During Hispanic Heritage month the website Lathisms is publishing a biography every day of a Hispanic/Latinx mathematician.  Lathisms was founded in 2016 by Alexander Diaz-Lopez, Pamela E. Harris, Prieto-Langarica, and Gabriel Sosa.


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