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Women in Computer Science
Computers as we know them now are a relatively new technology. Yet the history of computer innovation goes as far back as the 1800's. Many women were pioneers in the development of computers through the years and played an important role in the overall advancement of technology. To this day they blaze a trail to new ideas and science in the field of computer engineering.
Ada Byron -
Ada Byron was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. Soon after she was born in 1815, her mother left her poet husband determined that Ada would study science and mathematics rather than poetry. But Ada never lost her creative side and approached her mathematical pursuits with imagination and poetic metaphors.
In 1834, Ada became aware of Henry Babbage who was working on a new calculating engine which he called an Analytical Engine. He imagined inventing a machine that had not only foresight but the ability to act on it. Ada was fascinated by Babbage's theories and began corresponding with him. He encouraged her interest and ideas. Ada suggested a plan to Babbage on how the engine could calculate using Bernoulli numbers. This plan is considered now the very first "computer program". In 1979, a software language was developed and named "Ada" in her honor by the U.S. Department of Defense.
Hedy Lamarr -
You might have thought Hedy Lamarr was just another pretty face on the Silver Screen but the Austrian actress was brainy too. Though not recognized for her accomplishments until years later, Hedy and partner George Anthiel were responsible for the development of a "Secret Communications System". It was designed to manipulate radio frequencies between transmission and reception at irregular intervals. The goal of the invention was to help combat Nazis during World War II by creating an unbreakable code preventing the enemy from intercepting classified information.
Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent for their device in 1941 but it was only first used aboard naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Since then the system has been implemented in various military applications. The inventor's "spread spectrum" technology went on to form the backbone of digital communications as we know it now. Hedy Lamarr is recognized as one of the 20th century's most important women inventors and was honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award in 1997.
Admiral Grace Hopper -
Grace Murray Hopper earned her B.A. in mathematics from Vassar in 1928 and went on to get her Ph.D from Yale in 1934. She joined the Navy in 1943 and was quickly commissioned to work on Howard H. Aiken's electromechanical Mark I computing machine. By the end of World War II, the diminutive Hopper was working on the Mark II version of the machine and writing complicated operating manuals on the subject. Always full of energy, Hopper divided her time between military, business and academic pursuits.
She is credited with inventing the compiler, a program that translates English language instructions into the computer's language. In 1983, Hopper was promoted to rear admiral in a ceremony at the White House. She is considered one of the most important futurists in the computing world and is thought of as one of the first software engineers. On January 7, 1992, Admiral Hopper was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full Naval honors.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller -
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller is thought to be the first woman to earn a Ph.D. degree in computer science. From Cleveland, Ohio, Sister Keller entered the Catholic religious order, Sisters of Charity in 1932. Her Ph.D. degree work included the study of constructing algorithms used for algebreic analytic differentiation. She was allowed into a previously "men only" computer center at Dartmouth where she had a hand in the development of BASIC.
Sister Keller was a passionate advocate of encouraging women to enter the field of computer science. She accepted a faculty position at Clarke College in Dubuque, Iowa where she went on to found the Computer Science Department and act as its chair for the next 20 years. Her vision included the concept of artificial intelligence. Sister Keller died at the age of 71 leaving behind a legacy of advanced computer studies at Clarke College.
Karen Sparck Jones -
As one of the most important women in computer science, Karen Sparck Jones pioneered automatic language and information processing since the early days of computers. Her work in information retrieval is among the most cited and influential in the field. Born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England she held the position of Professor of Computers and Information at Cambridge's computer laboratory until 2002.
One of Prof. Sparck Jones most significant contributions to the field was the concept of inverse document frequency (IDF) which is still used in most search engines today. She never took her retirement seriously and continued to work at Cambridge until her death in 2007. She was recognized with several awards including the prestigious ACL Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.
Radia Joy Perlman -
Sometimes referred to as the "Mother of the Internet", Radia Perlman is most well known for her invention of the spanning-tree protocol which is fundamental to the functioning of network bridges. She was born in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1951 and earned her Ph.D. in Computer Science from MIT. While in college she developed a small version of LOGO, an educational robotics language. She called it TORTIS. Radia is known as an innovative advocate for teaching very young children computer programming.
Perlman was named one of the most influential people in the computer field by Data Communications magazine. She is a software designer and network engineer at Sun Microsystems and specializes in network security. She holds over 50 patents and has published textbooks and academic papers on a variety of technological subjects.
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