Wonder Women of STEM: Ada Lovelace, 19th century programmer

Editor’s Note: This post is the second in a series featuring influential women from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the lead up to HMNS’ annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015. Click here to get involved! 

The modern tech industry is currently dominated by men — a problem with its origins in the 1980s. While many companies have begun to reconfigure their goals and diversify their staffs in order to be more inclusive, it wasn’t always this way.

In fact, many, if not most, of the functions modern computing has taken on, were originally thought of by a woman in the 1800s — a woman who wrote the first computer algorithm. 

This woman was Ada Lovelace, or Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace born in 1815 as the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron. It might seem strange that a poet’s daughter would turn “techie” as such, but Lovelace’s computational genius was undeniable and encouraged from a very young age. 

You see, her mother (who was apparently not very fond of Lord Byron) wanted her daughter to be as unlike her father as possible, and thereby stressed mathematics and science, and left out poetry, in her tutoring.

However, Lovelace’s inner poet could not be extinguished, manifesting itself in her beautifully artistic approach to her field, calling it “poetic sciences.” 

When she was 17, Lovelace was introduced her to Charles Babbage, who was working on a prototype for the Analytical Engine, one of the predecessors to electronic computers. 

Devised as a way to solve complex mathematical formulas, Ada created the first algorithm for the engine. However, she saw past this function, envisioning a future where the machine could perform a variety of tasks and questioned how technology and society interact and affect one another. On this, she said: 

“[The Engine] might act upon other things besides number, were objects found whose mutual fundamental relations could be expressed by those of the abstract science of operations, and which should be also susceptible of adaptations to the action of the operating notation and mechanism of the engine…

Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

While the plans for the Analytical Engine were never fully realized, Lovelace wrote scholarly papers on the theoretical machine, along with her algorithm, which proved vital for those building the first computer a century later.

HMNS is highlighting females that made contributions to STEM fields leading up to our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015!

Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) is an event that showcases some of the great things girls do with science, technology, engineering and math! Students can present a project on a STEM related subject for the chance to earn prize money for their school.

If you, or a student you know is interested, apply for a student booth today!

Want to know more about the wonder women of STEM?
Click here for the first post in the series, Wonder Women of STEM: Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

 

 

Wonder Women of STEM: Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

Editor’s Note: This post is the first in a series featuring influential women from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields in the lead up to HMNS’ annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015. Click here to get involved!

In the early 1800s, discoveries made by Mary Anning greatly expanded the field of paleontology and shed light on many previously undiscovered prehistoric creatures. Born in 1799 to a lower class family, Mary and her brother Joseph grew up wandering the shores of Lyme Regis, England looking for all sorts of fossils. After her father died in 1810, Mary’s fossil hobby became the source of income for the Anning family.

The first major find for the Anning family was a skull of what appeared to be a prehistoric crocodile. Mary’s brother Joseph discovered the skull in 1810, and after a year of meticulous searching, Mary discovered the rest of the skeleton in 1811 at age 12.

The fossilized remains were not from a crocodile as previously thought. In fact, they were remains from a new ocean reptile species which museum scientists named Ichthyosaur. Mary is credited with finding the first Ichthyosaur specimen acknowledged by the Geological Society of London. Her discovery led to discoveries of other Ichthyosaurs in Germany including one nicknamed “Jurassic Mom” which is on display at HMNS in the Morian Hall of Paleontology

Reconstruction of an Ichthyosaur

But Mary’s contributions to Paleontology didn’t stop there!

In 1823, Mary discovered another ocean reptile named Plesiosaurus. This long-necked ocean reptile had flippers and a skull with sharp interlocking teeth. Her findings showed that the Jurassic seas were filled with all types of sea monsters and things that they left behind. Anning was able to deduce aspects of the Ichthyosaur diet by finding fossilized Ichthyosaur feces containing fish scales, squid suction cups, and belemnites. In addition to her ancient sea life discoveries, Anning also uncovered the first pterodactyl found outside of Germany.  

A fossil of Dimorphodon, discovered by Anning.

Over the course of her life, Mary discovered several species of Ichthyosaur and several complete Plesiosaurus skeletons among other fossilized remains. She sold these fossils to numerous museums and private collectors.

Unfortunately, due to her social status,Anning was not credited for many of her discoveries during her lifetime. However, before her death in 1847, Anning became the first Honorary Member of the New Dorset County Museum, and today she is still recognized today as one of the great female contributors to Paleontology!

HMNS is highlighting females that made contributions to STEM fields leading up to our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) event, February 21, 2015!

Although Mary Anning did not have much formal education, she taught herself geology and anatomy to help her find and identify fossils. Her enthusiasm for education helped her expand the knowledge of ancient ocean reptiles.

Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS) is an event that showcases some of the great things girls do with science, technology, engineering and math! Students can present a project on a STEM related subject for the chance to earn prize money for their school.

If you, or a student you know is interested, apply for a student booth today!

 Want to know more about the wonder women of STEM?
Click here for the second post in the series, Wonder Women of STEM: Ada Lovelace, 19th century programmer.

 

STEMS & GEMS: HMNS’ Erin Mills gives us the buzz on bugs

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program happening February 21 2015, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Erin Mills, Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center.

Erin Mills Cockrell Butterfly Center

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science/technology/engineering and/or math?
Mills: I’ve been interested in Science as long as I can remember, particularly Life Science. I was always fascinated with creatures big and small.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Mills: 
My 7th grade Science teacher Mrs. Pierce-Mcbroom was an awesome science teacher! Picture a female Bill Nye! She had lots of exotic pets that she would bring into the classroom and she was very fun! My mother was also a huge inspiration. Whereas most moms squeal and squirm at the sight or even thought of creepy crawly creatures, they didn’t bother my mom one bit! She was fearless and encouraged me to explore the natural world and all of its residents. She was always very proud of me!

HMNS: What was your favorite science project when you were in school?
Mills: 
My mom helped me to make a mini tropical habitat. She helped me pick out plants that live in the tropics and in the end it looked beautiful! It was my first Science fair project and I got an A!

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science/technology/engineering/math?
Mills: 
As an Entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center I get to work with some of the most amazing bugs from all around the world. Bugs are some of the most important organisms on the planet and my job involves a lot of educating people, young and old, about them and their importance to the ecosystem.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Mills: Getting to work with the live insects and other arthropods

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Mills: 
Anything outdoors: hiking, walking, running, and playing with my little boy and showing him the natural world.

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career?
Mills: 
Keep your mind open to the thousands of possibilities there are with one of these careers. Ask lots of questions and learn as much as you can, and don’t be afraid or too shy to do what it takes to pursue whatever it is that interests you!

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like GEMS?
Mills: 
I think mentors play a huge part in helping people be successful. This event can help connect girls with mentors and that can have a tremendously positive impact on their futures!

 

Know a girl who loves science? Click here to learn more about how you can get involved with GEMS!

STEM & GEMS: Stephanie Thompson Swims With Sharks

Editor’s Note: As part of our annual GEMS (Girls Exploring Math and Science) program, we conduct interviews with women who have pursued careers in science, technology, engineering, or math. This week, we’re featuring Stephanie Thompson, Animal Care Technician at HMNS

Make sure you mark your calendars for this year’s GEMS event, February 21, 2015!

GEMS blog October

Stephanie Thompson with a Great White Shark model in HMNS’ SHARK! Touch Tank Experience

HMNS: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thompson: 
I have always wanted to become a marine biologist and work with sharks. I got my chance to really sink into marine biology when I started working with Texas A&M Galveston in its efforts to help in the conservation and rehabilitation of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico back in 2011. I got the job of Animal Care Technician at HMNS in 2014 then graduated with my degree in Marine Biology.  Now I finally have my opportunity to work with sharks.

HMNS: How old were you when you first become interested in science?
Thompson: I was five years old when I realized I wanted to be a biologist.

HMNS: Was there a specific person or event that inspired you when you were younger?
Thompson: My parents took me to a beach in NC. We went to a pier and someone caught a shark and let me pet it. Since then I have always wanted to work with sharks and the ocean!

HMNS: What was your favorite project when you were in school?
Thompson: My favorite project in school was my fish collection project in ichthyology. I had to go out to various lakes and beaches in the eastern part of Texas and collect various species of fish throughout the semester. At one point I got to go out into the middle of the Gulf of Mexico for my collection and was accompanied by a pod of dolphins.

HMNS: What is your current job? How does this relate to science/technology/engineering/math?
Thompson: I take care of the live animals at HMNS. This means I feed them, clean their homes, and care for them if they are sick.

HMNS: What’s the best part of your job?
Thompson: The best part of my job is taking care of the sharks[in SHARK! The Touch Tank Experience]! It’s a dream come true.

HMNS: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Thompson: In my spare time I like to paint, work on projects in my mom’s wood shop, and spend time with family and friends!

HMNS: What advice would you give to girls interested in pursuing a STEM career? 
Thompson: Never give up on dreams! It may be a long and difficult road but if it is something you really want to do then don’t let anyone or anything hold you back.

HMNS: Why do you think it’s important for girls to have access to an event like Girls Exploring Math and Science (GEMS)?
Thompson: It is important because the more girls who have access to these kinds of events means that it is likelier that these girls will be interested these fields in the future. There is not enough women in these industries right now, meaning that it is dominated by men. If more women became engineers, biologists, or physicists then the workforce would have different perspectives. With more women in these fields we could have better technologies and make more discoveries about the world around us!

GEMS is always looking for organizations to share enthusiasm about science and math with young students. If you are part of an organization that would like to participate in GEMS, applications are available here!