Today is Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating women in STEM
Ada Lovelace is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charles Babbage, she was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842 translated a description of it by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Babbage asked her to expand the article, “as she understood [it] so well”, and this was when she wrote several early ‘computer programs’ a 100 years before the first computers were built.
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of celebration helping people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.
Ada herself was an inspiration to many including Michael Faraday.
On the 10 June 1840, Ada Lovelace sent a copy of her portrait to Michael Faraday with a note saying
'Dear Mr. Faraday,
Mr Babbage tells me that you have expressed a wish to possess one of the engravings of me, by which I feel exceedingly flattered, & hope you will accept one that we still happen to have by us.
I am sorry that there is no proof left, to which I might have put my signature.
Believe me, yours very truly
Augusta Ada Lovelace
St James’ Square
Faraday liked to collect images of people he met or were acquainted with so this etching was gratefully received into his collection.
This was the start of a friendship and admiration which lasted till until Ada’s death in 1852 at the age of 36.
Medievalpoc Presents: History of POC in Math and Science Week, 8-3-14 through 8-9-14!
Medievalpoc’s first Patreon Milestone Goal has been reached, and the History of POC in Math and Science Week is happening soon! This all-new themed week will focus on the contribution of people of color to the fields of mathematics, science, physics, medicine, natural philosophy, and much, much more!
There will be a focus on primary documents with interactive elements, visual and documentary evidence, innovators and their biographies, and notable personages of color from the Islamic Golden Age, Medieval Europe, African Empires and Universities, Asian images and texts, and discussion about early modern globalization regarding how this knowledge traveled.
If you have an article, image, document, or commentary you would like to submit, here’s your chance to weigh in on this topic! Please use the “Math and Science Week” and any other relevant tags for your submission, and I look forward to hearing about your favorite mathematicians and scientists of color!
Felix Hoffmann (1868-1946)
Within a two-week period in August 1897, German chemist Felix Hoffmann synthesized two drugs: aspirin and heroin.
Born in Swabia, Germany, Hoffmann worked in various pharmacies around Germany and later studied chemistry and pharmacy at the University of Munich. Adolf von Baeyer, one of Hoffmann’s professors and later Nobel Laureate, recommended Hoffmann for a research position with the Bayer Company. It was during his tenure at the Bayer Company that Hoffmann synthesized “Aspirin.”
It is believed that Hoffmann was searching for a medicine to alleviate his father’s rheumatic pains. Once Hoffmann managed to acetylate salicylic acid (which is present in salves and teas made from willow bark and certain other plant materials) Heinrich Dreser, head of the Bayer Company, tested the substance to determine the safety of its use. Acetylsalicylic acid was given the name “Aspirin,” from the A for acetyl and the spirin from Spirea, the genus name for shrubs that are an alternative source of salicylic acid.
The Bayer Company was unable to patent Aspirin because it had been synthesized by a French chemist and a German chemist prior to Hoffmann (Hoffmann was the first to create it in a “pure and stable form).” The Bayer Company marketed the drug worldwide and was able to obtain a patent in the United States, giving the company the monopoly on manufacturing the drug from 1900 to 1917.
Dreser also instructed Hoffmann to acetylate morphine with the objective of producing codeine; the result instead was a substance that was named “heroin.” But the same compound had already been discovered in 1874 by English chemist C. R. Alder Wright and was not patentable. Before heroin was known to be an addictive drug, it was sold by Bayer and other companies to suppress heavy coughs, to relieve the pain of childbirth and serious war injuries, to prepare patients for anesthesia, and to control certain mental disorders.
Hoffmann retired in 1928 and his “discovery” of Aspirin was a success worldwide; he was, however, unknown to the public. Hoffmann never married nor had children and lived in Switzerland out of the public eye until his death in 1946.
The general Form of an Atom, including the spirals and 1st Spirillae, together with influx and efflux ethers, represented by dots, which pass through these spirillae. The 2d and 3d spirillae with their still finer ethers are not shown.
Edwin D. Babbit, Principles of Light and Color “Etherio–Atomic Philosophy of Force”, 1878
Badass Scientist of the Week: George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver (1864–1943) was a botanist, an agricultural researcher and an educator. He was born on a small farm near Diamond Grove, Missouri, where his mother and brother were the only slaves of Moses and Susan Carver. When he was a baby, his mother was taken by Confederate night-raiders, and the Carvers raised the two boys as their own.
George became interested in nature at a young age but schools were racially segregated—to get an education he was forced to leave home at twelve and work to support himself while studying. Racial barriers made applying to college a struggle, too but after four years he finally became the first black student at Simpson College, Iowa. Carver soon transferred to Iowa State College to study science, and he gained a Master’s in agriculture and bacterial botany in 1896.
He was renowned within the school for his academic talent and his gift as a teacher. He then took up a position as head of agriculture at the all-black-staffed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. At the time, southern farming was devastated by years of civil war and the “loss” of slave labour, which was hurting the economy. Carver helped farmers recover: he recognised that years of growing cotton and tobacco had severely depleted the soil and so introduced “rotational” crops—alternating soil-depleting crops with soil-enriching crops like peanuts and sweet potatoes.
To encourage farmers, he proceeded to invent hundreds of profitable applications of the crops, including adhesives, axel grease, biofuel, bleach, ink, metal polish, shaving cream, synthetic rubber and wood stain. Soon, his ingenuity led to speaking engagements, and by the 1920s he was on lecture tours of white colleges, opening students’ eyes to racial injustices and serving as a mentor to black students. He became a national folk hero, and after his death in, 1943, President Roosevelt honoured Carver with a national monument.
Carver never patented or profited from most of his profits—as his epitaph reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”
An illustration from the 1840s of surgeon James Young Simpson and his friends who would spend evenings together sampling new chemicals to see if they had any anaesthetic effect. Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform and successfully introduced it for medical use where it quickly replaced ether as the anaesthetic of choice.
Adolphe Sax (1814-1894), a Belgian, created the saxophone, which was patented in 1846.
"Sax aware that there was a tonal disparity between strings and winds, as well as brasses and woodwinds. Sax noticed that the brasses were overpowering the woodwinds, and the winds were overpowering the strings. He saw the need to come up with a new instrument that would create some form of balance between the three sections (brass, woodwinds and strings). The sound that he was seeking would lie between the clarinet’s woodwind sound, and the trumpet’s brass tone. Sax combined the body of a brass instrument and the mouthpiece of a woodwind instrument, and the saxophone was born.” (x)
John Tyndall - 19th Century Physicist
John Tyndall was a physicist that lived between 1820 and 1893. He was born in County Carlow, Ireland in a village known as Leighlinbridge. He made many contributions to the world of science; In particular his work on magnetism, atmospheric physics, science education and promotion of separation of science and religion.
His work on magnetism gained him fame among leading 19th century physicists. One of the most prominent of which was Michael Faraday. As a result of this work, he was elected a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society. Tyndall also did investigations into the absorption of infrared radiation by the various components of air. Due to his experimentation, he found that water vapour is the leading contributor to infrared absorption in the atmosphere. This result was the first experimental evidence to support the now widely accepted Greenhouse Effect. Tyndall made countless other contributions and discoveries including the Tyndall Effect, Tyndalization (method of sterilizing food), invented a technique to remove suspended dust particles and microorganisms from the air, made contributions to Glaciology.
Besides his work in experimental science, Tyndall was also a great Science educator. His target audiences were often, in his own words, “intelligent persons who may not possess any special scientific culture”. He was the author of numerous books, some of which remained popular for decades. Apart from writing books, audiences watched his lectures on various aspects of physics. His lectures in the Royal Institution were crowded, a testament to his success as an educator.
Tyndall was a member of the X-club. The X-club was a group of 9 scientists and mathematicians that supported the theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and academic liberalism. The founder of the group was Thomas Henry Huxley. Huxley was referred to as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’ due to his vocal support and defense of Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection. The members of the X-club were united by "devotion to science, pure and free, untrammelled by religious dogmas". Tyndall made it known that he thought there should be a clear separation of science and religion. Tyndall believed that religion should not be permitted to “intrude on the region of knowledge, over which it holds no command”.
This post has been a brief summary of the work of John Tyndall but there is a lot of things that I have failed to mention in the post. His Wikipedia page is a good place to learn more. I have also found a few of his books online which can be found here.
A Machine to Weigh the Soul
Newly discovered papers have shed light on a fascinating episode in the history of neuroscience: Weighing brain activity with the balance
The story of the early Italian neuroscientist Dr Angelo Mosso and his ‘human circulation balance’ is an old one – I remember reading about it as a student, in the introductory bit of a textbook on fMRI – but until now, the exact details were murky.