Science Poetry

Branching Statements

“Deducing, computing, 
Through science poetical…
A. Ada Lovelace’s 
Efforts accrue: 
Steps archetypical.  
Quests algorithmic;
Endeavors heuristic–
From her works, ensue.”

The 17 April 2021 Twitter biography described some of the myriad accomplishments of Countess Augusta Ada Lovelace (1815-1852), whose family tree is one of the most famously interdisciplinary in history.  

“Deducing, computing, /
Through science poetical… /
A. Ada Lovelace’s /
Efforts accrue:” 
Steps archetypical.”

Ada Lovelace’s father was poet Lord Byron, and her mother was mathematician Lady Byron.  While Lovelace is most famous for her work related to computer science, she also is noted for her discussions of the imagination needed to pursue science (the phrase “science poetical” is from her own writing).  Lovelace’s “efforts accrue[d]” in a wide variety of STEM fields throughout her life, as her path crossed with those of multiple scientists and academics in the 1800s.  (Interestingly, her tutor was Mary Somerville, whose own story was briefly told here via a similar essay a few weeks ago.)  

Lovelace is likely best-known for her collaboration with Charles Babbage, who designed the Analytical Engine, a precursor to the programmable computer.  Babbage asked Lovelace to translate an article related to his work from Italian to English: “Sketch of the Analytical Engine,” which had been written by Luigi Menabrea.  As part of this process, Lovelace published notes of her own; these notes are generally considered the first computer program (“steps archetypical”).    

“Quests algorithmic; /
Endeavors heuristic– /
From her works, ensue.”

Lovelace was able to imagine the wide array of possibilities that the Analytical Engine could accomplish, beyond arithmetic calculations alone to artistic applications, as well: a wide array of “quests algorithmic [and] endeavors heuristic.”  

Via an insightful comment that elegantly intertwined the artistic and analytic branches of her family tree, she stated: “We may say most aptly that the Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”  

Lovelace’s birthday is now commemorated as a holiday, celebrating women’s achievements in STEM, more generally.