This was to mark Ada Lovelace Day and was the first virtual coding Public Engagement event at this scale, and the first to be aimed directly at school groups when they returned in September.
A key part of the SCD Public Engagement programme is to engage students, as well as teachers, with computing and coding, particularly with the increased emph
asis on coding and computing from government and within the national curriculum.
Ada Lovelace was a British mathematician and writer, mostly 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, making her often regarded as the first computer programmer. The focus on Ada Lovelace aims to particularly encourage girls to pursue computing, one of the biggest STEM areas where women are under-represented.
The event was held over Zoom and started with an introduction to physical and virtual Arduino microcontrollers, as well as block based programming languages. The aim of the day was to repair the Ada Lovelace, the first ship carrying a crew to Mars, after mission critical hardware and software systems were damaged by a solar flare.
The schools classes were split into teams which started work on creating a replacement solar flare warning system. There next task was to design and implement hardware and software replacements for one of the remaining damaged systems: the life support system, the communications system or the landing system. Each team has two or more members of SCD staff to give advice and help debug their hardware and software issues.
To facilitate this event, SCD supplied and sent each school physical Arduinos and a set of electronic components, as well as an electronic resources pack enabling them to replicate the day in the future on their own.
Feedback was excellent, with one parent stating, “My daughter has just got home from school, where she has spent all day working remotely with the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on some coding challenges. She absolutely loved it and said that she learned tons, and all those involved were really nice".
The day also included a virtual tour of the Scientific Computing Data Centre, provided by Jacob Ward, and a talk from Sarah Byrne, one of SCD's newest graduates, about her path from GCSEs to STFC – for this part of the day we were joined by additional schools.