Today is Ada Lovelace day.
I had no idea what that was yesterday. Really! Ironic, I know. Well as it turns out, Ada Lovelace is widely considered the ‘first programmer’ – and a virtual one at that – for her work with Charles “Father of the Computer” Babbage’s ‘analytical engine’ concept. Had they actually built it (in 1991, a working model based on original plans proved that the concept would have worked), it would have been the first computer, and Ada would have had it humming along happily.
In honour of the day, people all over the world have been asked to blog about their female technology role models.
For me, the woman who truly exemplify the spirit of technology, innovation, and furthering the role of women in science and technology is Marie Skłodowska Curie.
For me, the reason I picked Marie Curie are obvious. I am, after all, a complete physics nerd (did I mention that? I have still not yet completely written that college degree off. BIG physics nerd here.) Some highlights:
- She was the first women to receive a Nobel Prize.
- The first person to earn or share two Nobel Prizes.
- She is only one of two people to be awarded Nobel Prizes in two different categories (Physics and Chemistry). Linus Pauling is the other.
- Despite all that, the French Academy of Sciences still refused her membership.
- She helped put her sister through college in Paris, after which her sister returned the favor, where she earned a physics and subsequently a mathametics degree from the Sorbonne.
- She always loved her homeland of Poland, even though they refused her a position at Krakow University because she was a woman upon completing her schooling. She encountered numerous instances of prejudicial treatment in the science community, and always managed to rise above it.
- She discovered polonium. She named it after her homeland of Poland. Together with her husband, they discovered radium. Their work in radioactivity (a word which the Curies coined) was groundbreaking. Marie learned quickly that she had to lay claim quickly and clearly that her ideas were her own, however, or the scientific community would write her off as just her husband’s assistant. Despite how devestating it was, her husband’s death 12 years after they met helped her to establish herself as a scientist in her own right.
The woman was amazing. After her husband’s death, she became the first female professor at the Sorbonne, and continued their work in earnest. And her work is what eventually killed her – she eventually died of a type of anemia directly caused by exposure to radiation. But because of her work, basic laws of physics and chemistry were challenged, the nuclear atom and ways to battle cancer were discovered, and the role of women in sciences was forever changed.
Here’s to Marie Skłodowska Curie, and Ada Lovelace. May their stories and efforts continue to enrich the lives of women, and everyone.