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Ada Lovelace – An inspiration to the next generation, the first computer programmer

10 December 2018

Today 10th December, is the birthday of one of our most inspirational female computer programmers, Ada Lovelace. Lovelace was a British mathematician and writer. Regarded as being the first computer programmer she wrote and published the first computer algorithm in 1843. Her work was completed at a time where it was a challenge for women in many scientific fields. She sadly passed away at the age of 36. Lovelace has also been attributed for inspiring Alan Turing’s work on the first modern day computers.

Every year during October there is a national celebration of her work, the Ada Lovelace day highlights the achievements of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths – and computing! Events take place around the country, and STFC’s Daresbury Laboratory (DL) and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) celebrate with the Ada Lovelace Challenge, a special event for Year 8 and 9 school students.

RAL hosted a computing themed event for ten teams of children in Years 8 and 9.

It’s hoped that the focus on Ada Lovelace will particularly encourage girls to consider pursuing computing – an area where women are even more under-represented than physics!

This year’s event, at RAL, was the largest Ada Lovelace Challenge Day for one of our sites, with 12 teams in attendance. Their task was to repair the Ada Lovelace, the first ship to Mars carrying a crew, after mission critical hardware and software systems were damaged.

left-hand quote markArduino is an open-source platform used for prototyping interactive electronics.

The Arduino is a simpler device than a Raspberry Pi. The Arduino microcontroller has a silicon chip on a circuit board studded with many different connectors that can take in data, analyse it and then produce a response via one of its many outputs. This makes it great for creative computing.right-hand quote mark

Each team was assigned one of the damaged systems to design and implement hardware and software replacements: the solar panel system, the magnetic airlock system, the life support system, the communications system and the landing system. The teams successfully repaired the damaged areas using Arduino microcontrollers and Ardublock, having only been introduced to these in the morning.

Later in October over 350 people attended Daresbury Laboratory’s two day computing access event in the Hartree Centre. Local families were invited to Supercomputing, Science and You! to take part in a range of hands-on science and technology activities and learn more about what working in STEM is like.

Activities on offer included making music using python code and touch sensors connected to household items – in this case, pieces of fruit – and interactive demos on the Hartree Centre's HPiC, a mini supercomputing cluster constructed from Raspberry Pis. Families had the opportunity to interact with the Hartree Centre's resident robot Pepper, as well as try their hand at programming mini robots to follow a path.

The demos spanned applications including weather, communications and food. Even the arts and crafts activities had a digital edge with augmented reality colouring in sheets! All of this was hosted within the Hartree Centre itself, allowing families to explore the cutting edge technology spaces that they live so close to whilst engaging with and experiencing the work of real scientists.

Last updated: 03 January 2019


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