October 15th was Ada Lovelace Day, “an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM).” Get your nerdy girl groove on with “History, Bitches” by learning about the day’s namesake and four more pioneering lady scientists.
Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852)
The only child of Anne Isabella Milbanke, nicknamed “The Princess of Parallelograms,” and bad boy rebel sex poet, Lord Byron, it’s hardly surprising Ada earned the moniker, “Enchantress of Numbers.” Throughout her girlhood, Ada’s mother emphasized her study of science and mathematics, hopeful they’d preclude her acquiring her father’s mercurial disposition. At 17, she met Charles Baggage, mathematician and architect of the Analytical Engine. Asked to translate Luigi Menabrea’s commentary on Babbage’s creation from French to English, Ada incorporated her ponderings on the machine, too. Her annotations were three times longer than Menabrea’s original piece! Ada theorized Babbage’s instrument “might act upon other things besides number...” and contemplated a technique for it to repeat a series of commands. Consequently, she’s considered by some a “prophet of the computer age.”
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Chien-Shiung Wu (May 31, 1912 – February 16, 1997
Styled the “First Lady of Physics” and “China’s Marie Curie,” Chien-Shiung Wu is celebrated as a ground-breaking physicist who, among her numerous distinctions, collaborated on the Manhattan Project. She was recruited by Columbia University to work on its top-secret construction of the atomic bomb. Her contributions include designing radiation-sensing devices and helping create a method to enrich uranium ore. After World War II, Chien-Shiung remained at Columbia studying beta decay. There, she confirmed the hypothesis of colleagues, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen Ning Yang; Lee and Yang won the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics. Though Chien-Shiung wasn’t eligible for the award, her crucial support was recognized (#notafootnote). Subsequently, she was bestowed several honors (e.g. The National Academy of Sciences’ Comstock Prize in Physics, 1964 and U.S. National Medal of Science, 1975) and became the American Physical Society’s first woman president. Likewise, before her passing, Chien-Shiung was conferred honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, and became the first living scientist with an asteroid named in her honor.
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Ellen Ochoa (born May 10, 1958)
Embarking on a nine-day voyage aboard the space shuttle Discovery, Ellen was the first Hispanic woman to journey to outer space. Ultimately, she completed four missions, logging almost 1000 hours in space. She earned a second history-making distinction when, on January 1, 2013, she became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. Among Ellen’s NASA awards are the Distinguished Service Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, and Outstanding Leadership Medal. There are also two schools are named in honor.
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Lisa Perez Jackson (born February 8, 1962)
On December 15, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama selected Lisa to become the first African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Graduating summa cum laude from Tulane University’s School of Chemical Engineering, and rounding-out her educational achievements with a master’s degree from Princeton, she was subsequently employed by the U.S. EPA. Lisa departed for employment at New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection, eventually becoming Commissioner. Though NJ Governor Jon Corzine promoted her to his Chief of Staff, she was nominated by President Obama just two weeks later. Lisa resigned her position December 27, 2012 expressing concerns about the Keystone Pipeline; she’s now Apple’s chief environmental advisor.
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Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909–August 7, 1974)
Though she’s most recognized for creating the Apgar Newborn Scoring System, Virginia distinguished herself elsewhere, too. She became one of the first women to graduate from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons (CUCPS). Subsequently, she was encouraged to utilize her academic gifts in anesthesiology, a burgeoning discipline accepting of women. Employed at CUCPS as the institution’s first female full professor, she researched the applications and impacts of anesthesia during childbirth. In 1952, Virginia created the Apgar Score, a technique for rapidly evaluating a newborn’s health; it continues to be used today. Later, she held a post at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (March of Dimes).
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The History Bitch
Podcaster, tea aficionado, Anglophile, 'Game of Thrones' enthusiast.