This week the Scientific Computing Department (SCD) celebrated Ada Lovelace Day, an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths.
Ada Lovelace was a British mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage's early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the Analytical Engine include what is now recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine and, as such, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer. She was also among the first to recognise that computers had potential beyond number crunching, writing “the engine might compose elaborate and scientific pieces of music of any degree or complexity or extent".
To mark her achievements, STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) hosted a computing themed event for 13 teams of Year 8 and 9 pupils. 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. Teams used Arduino microcontrollers and the Ardublock
graphical programming language to design and implement replacement solutions. Each group also received a tour of either the RAL Scientific Data Centre or the Atlas Visualisation Facility. Pupils were enthusiastic and enjoyed the day.
A key part of the Public Engagement programme is to engage students, and importantly teachers, with computing. There is an increased emphasis on coding and computing from government and within the national curriculum, and so we are looking at new ways of using STFC's computing work to enthuse students. We hope that the focus on Ada Lovelace will particularly encourage girls to consider pursuing computing, an area where women are even less represented than in physics. Staff and helpers were pleased to see a high proportion of girls attending the event.