Forgotten Female Scientist: Ada Lovelace

By: Dina Abrahim  |  March 11, 2022

By Dina Abrahim

Many computer programmers may not know about Ada Lovelace’s contribution to computer programming. However, after researching parts of her life and the advancements she contributed to computer science, it becomes quite clear why many would consider Ada Lovelace to be a pioneer in this field. Ada Lovelace was a brilliant British mathematician who is considered to be the first computer programmer. 

Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815 to the poet Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke Byron in London, England. Two months after she was born, her parents got divorced. After the divorce, her father abandoned Lovelace and her mother, never returning to England. As a result, Lovelace did not know her father, and he died in Greece when she was eight. With her father out of the picture, Lovelace’s mother supervised her education, hiring tutors to teach Lovelace mathematics and science. From a young age, Lovelace showed a natural affinity towards numbers. 

When Lovelace was 17, she was introduced to Charles Babbage, an English mathematician who invented the difference engine, a machine that performed and calculated mathematical calculations. With Babbage’s help, Lovelace was able to study advanced mathematics at the University of London under the auspices of professor Augustus de Morgan. Lovelace was asked to translate an article on a different machine that Babbage was working on. This machine was called the analytical engine and was intended to solve more complex calculations than the difference engine. Lovelace translated the article from French into English and added her own notes about the machine. In 1843, her article was published in an English journal called Richard Taylor’s Scientific Memoirs. In her notes, she wrote down different ideas she had about what the machine could do. One of her ideas was that the engine would be able to repeat a series of instructions, which is what modern-day computer scientists refer to as “looping.”

On November 27, 1852, Lovelace died from uterine cancer at the age of 36. At the time of her death, people did not appreciate Lovelace for her advancements in computer science; however, today, we notably recognize her contributions as forming the foundation for computer programming. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense named the computer language “Ada” after her, and honored Lovelace by designating the second Tuesday in October as “Ada Lovelace Day.” 

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