|Posted on Mar 19, 2011 09:03:15 PM | Linda Cureton | 5 Comments ||
One of NASA’s 2011 strategic goals is to promote the things that attract students into the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. I’d like take the opportunity in Women’s History Month to talk specifically about some great contributions from some women in mathematics and perhaps to shout for joy about being a woman, a mathematician, and a part of the NASA civil servant workforce.
Hypatia of Alexandria lived approximately during the years 370-415 AD. She was the daughter of Theon of Alexandria who was a teacher of mathematics at the Museum of Alexandria in Egypt. She studied with her father and taught in the Neoplatonist school of philosophy. Though little historical evidence exists about her, it is believed that she wrote on mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. She was known to dress as a scholar or teacher instead of in women’s clothing. She drove her own chariot which was not considered a norm for women’s behavior. As a woman who did not know her place and one who espoused heretical teachings in astronomy regarding the motion of planets and the heavenly bodies, the Christian Bishop Cyril incited a mob to riot and they attacked her and murdered her.
Alicia Boole Stott was the daughter of George Boole (well-known for Boolean logic). She had a special intuition that helped her visualize objects in the fourth dimension developing a special interest in four-dimensional hypercubes also known as tesseracts. As a woman who lived 1860-1940, she was not afforded a formal education in mathematics. Married with two children, her husband recognized her talent and encouraged her to study with other mathematicians. Eventually she published several papers and built many models representing four-dimensional figures with cardboard and wood.
Ada Lovelace, 1815-1852, was known as the first computer programmer. She met Charles Babbage, the so-called Father of the Computer, and became interested in a concept he had for a mechanical device to compute values of quadratic functions. She also became interested in some of his ideas of another machine which would use punched cards to read instructions and data to solve mathematical problems. She had a vision that these machines, the future computers, could go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching.
In looking at the sketch of the lives of these women, you can see the potential that women can offer. This sketch illustrates the ability that women have to fit in a man’s world, see in different dimensions, and see the possibilities of things only imagined. In a study titled Women in the IT by the National Center for Women in Information Technology, it describes the special magic that women bring to teams in increasing diversity and enabling creative innovation.
I chose mathematics in college because I loved figuring things out like Alicia, I wanted to drive my own chariot like Hypatia, and like Ada, found these things called computers lacked the humanity that made them useful to most people.
I have a girlfriend that studied physics in college. I asked her why she chose physics for a major. She said that she really wanted to major in psychology, but the line was quite long and went out the door. Not wanting to brave the elements she went into the physics line without even knowing what physics was. The advisors told her don’t worry; we will help you and tell you what it is. She found her opportunities to excel in the safety and warmth of science.
To all the young women thinking about what line to get in, get in a line for science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Dear ladies, the line is short, and the opportunities are many. When you consider our study in these discipline areas along with our strength -- skills in communication, intuition, and curiosity, WE women become people that you can truly count on.
Linda Cureton, NASA CIO
Tags : CIO Leadership, Innovation, Technology