Today is designated Ada Lovelace Day - a day to celebrate women who have contributed to science and technology. In the nineteenth century Ada worked on programming Charles Babbage's calculating machines using a system devised to control looms that automated the weaving of pattern in fine fabrics. She is the icon of this day on which bloggers around the world write about inspiring female scientists. Find out more at www.findingada.com
My contribution to this day is a bit serendipitous. I hadn't been sure what to write about and the day had nearly gone when the subject was given to me be a random choice of TV programme. I was watching Bettany Hughes' Ancient World about Alexandria - around half the material revolved around Hypatia (right). This woman lived in fourth century Egypt; she was a philosopher in the true sense of the word - a lover of wisdom. She assisted her father in his mathematical scholarship and grew to become a respected scholar in her own right and the head of the Platonic School in Alexandria. Although none of her writings survive her students report her as an eloquent and charismatic teacher of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy. Her early death has attracted many legends of religious bigotry - the truth is uncertain but it is clear that the new Christian elite found her independence of thought and powerful intelligence intimidating. Her reputation through the ages is such that there is a crater on the moon named in her honour.
There's a new Spanish film of Hypatia's life story (clips were used in the TV programme) that I'd really like to get for our Maths at the Movies season in 2011. It's called Agora, stars Rachel Weiss as Hypatia and still doesn't have a UK release date. [Agora official website ]
For a less romantic biography with lots more detail about her work visit the St Andrew's University History of Maths pages.