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Primary Magazine - Issue 19: A little bit of history


This page has been archived. The content was correct at the time of original publication, but is no longer updated.
Created on 30 December 2009 by ncetm_administrator

 

Primary Magazine Issue 19Ada Lovelace
 

 

A little bit of history
Famous Mathematicians - Ada Lovelace

Ada LovelaceAda Lovelace was born on 10 December 1815. She was the only child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Isabella, known as Annabella. When he knew she was expecting a child, Byron hoped that Annabella would give birth to a boy and when she didn’t he was really disappointed. His daughter was named after his half sister Augusta Leigh, but Byron called her Ada.

When Ada was one month old, his wife asked Byron for a separation, moved out of the family home and went back to her parents’ house, taking Ada with her. In those days, English law gave fathers full custody of their children in cases of separation, but Byron made no attempt to claim these rights. With some sadness, he left the country for good and headed to Switzerland when Ada was about four months old. He played no part in her upbringing and had no relationship with her at all: her mother was the only significant parent in her life. Byron died when she was nine.

Ada was often ill. At eight she suffered from headaches that affected her vision, when she was 14 she became paralysed after a bout of measles and was bedridden for nearly a year. Throughout her illnesses, she continued her education. Her mother insisted on it and arranged for her to be privately home-schooled in mathematics and science. At the age of 17, her mathematical abilities began to show themselves and one of her later tutors suggested that Ada’s skills could lead her to become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first rate eminence”. He was right!

Charles BabbageAda met and worked with Charles Babbage, who was known as the ‘father of computers’. He had worked on plans for his new computer and reported on its development at a seminar in Turin, Italy, in the autumn of 1841. An Italian wrote a summary of what Babbage described and published an article abobut it in French. Ada translated the article: Babbage saw this and suggested she add her own notes, which turned out to be three times the length of the original article. She went on to say in an article she had published in 1843, that a machine like the one Babbage was proposing might be used to compose complex music, to produce graphics, and for both practical and scientific use. She was spot on – the birth of the computer!

Ada suggested that Babbage wrote a plan for how his machine might calculate a special sequence of numbers known as Bernoulli numbers. This plan is now thought of as the first computer program, and she is thought of as the first computer programmer and software designer. In 1953, over 100 years after her death, this plan was republished. A software language developed by the U.S. Department of Defense was named ‘Ada’ in her honour in 1979.

She was quite a well-known lady in her time, with wide ranging interests from music to horses to calculators. She had a few famous friends such as Charles Dickens. She married William King in July 1835, who was later to become the 1st Earl of Lovelace. Ada’s full title for most of her married life was The Right Honourable the Countess of Lovelace. She and her husband lived on a large estate in Ockham Park, Surrey; they also had another estate and a home in London. They had three children, two boys and a girl: after the birth of the girl, Ada became quite ill and it took months for her to get better.

Sadly, Ada died at the age of thirty-six, on 27 November 1852. She suffered from cancer of the uterus. While she was ill her doctors used a common method at the time of withdrawing considerable quantities of blood in order to cure her, known as bloodletting. It didn’t work and was another factor that caused her death. She was buried, next to the father she never knew, at a church in Hucknall, Nottingham.

Her name continues to be associated with computers: her image can be seen on the Microsoft product authenticity hologram stickers, and since 1998 the British Computer Society has awarded a medal in her name and initiated an annual competition for women students of computer science.

You could ask the children to research the history of computers and ask them to find out in child-speak how they work.

the number 36 in binary

You could have some fun exploring binary numbers, which are how a modern computer exchanges and processes information. It uses ones and zeros rather that the more cumbersome ten-digit decimal system we use.
The binary system works in base two, so instead of 10s, 100s, 1 000s etc. the place value of these numbers works in doubles: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 etc.
If you placed these in columns as we might in our number system, it would look something like this:

(128) (64) (32) (16) (8) (4) (2) (1)
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

If you take the number 36, that can be made from one lot of 32 and 4, so in binary it would appear as this: 0 0 1 0 0 1 0 0.

You could ask the children to make up similar numbers in both binary and our number systems. You could even try adding and taking away or multiplying and dividing for the more adventurous!
Try playing the Cisco Binary Game: it's great fun for you and the children!

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