Clara Immerwahr

Ada Lovelace Day: Support Matters


Ada Lovelace (1815 - 1852) is widely regarded as the world's first computer programmer, and this was in the 1840s! From today's Washington Post: 

Lovelace's friend Charles Babbage designed a concept for a machine he called the "Analytical Engine" -- essentially a mechanical computer that would have relied on punch cards to run programs. He recruited Lovelace to translate some notes from one of his lectures, but while Lovelace was translating she added to the notes herself. The notes grew to  three times their original length, as Lovelace described what many call the first computer program. Because of funding issues, the machine was not built during her and Babbage's lifetimes. But Lovelace's published article on the Analytical Engine later became a source of inspiration for Alan Turing’s work to build the first modern computers in the 1940s.
There are several articles and websites celebrating Ada Lovelace day. I found a particularly interesting article in Australian Science, which speaks about two other women in STEM with different support structures. Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie was encouraged to study by her father, grandfather, and husband.  Unfortunately, Clara Immerwahr lacked the same level of support, even though she was the first woman to get a Ph.D. from the University of Breslau. In fact, her husband Fritz Haber was involved with developing poison gas for use in World War 1. From the article:

Immerwahr was repulsed by Haber’s growing obsession with the development of poison gas. She confronted him numerous times but her pleas fell on deaf ears. On May 2nd 1915, she quarreled violently with Haber when she found out that he had come home for just the night and was leaving again in the morning to direct more poison gas attacks on the Eastern front. In the early hours of the morning, Immerwahr walked into the garden with Haber’s army pistol and shot herself in the chest. Haber of course did not let this inconvenience him, and left as planned the next morning without even making any funeral arrangements.

Support systems make a difference. It's critical that everyone within science feels supported, especially underrepresented folks that face additional pressures. To read more about Curie and Immerwahr, check out the Australian Science article here.