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Ada Lovelace’s remarkable story to be celebrated at the Science Museum

Discover the extraordinary story of Ada Lovelace, Victorian pioneer of the computer age, in a new exhibition at the Science Museum. 

  • 13 October 2015 – March 2016
  • Free exhibition
  • Science Museum, London

Celebrating the bicentenary of Lovelace’s birth and opening on Ada Lovelace Day (13 October), this free exhibition explores Lovelace’s story through her own words and those of her contemporaries.

Ada Lovelace was a century ahead of her time in imagining a general purpose device, the basis of all computers. Called the ‘Enchantress of Number’ by Charles Babbage, she saw the potential for his calculating machines to move beyond simple mathematics. Lovelace was the daughter of poet Lord Byron and the admired intellect Annabella Milbanke, and studied science and maths at a time when women rarely had access to such subjects.

Brought together for the first time in this exhibition, Lovelace’s portraits, letters and notes, including the first published algorithm for the Analytical Engine, will go on display alongside the calculating machines she worked with. Difference Engine No. 1, a prototype built by Babbage and marveled at by Lovelace, is displayed alongside the Analytical Engine, which was the main focus of Lovelace’s work and imagination.

Dr. Tilly Blyth, Lead curator of the Ada Lovelace exhibition said:

‘This exhibition reveals how Ada’s determination, knowledge and unbridled vision enabled her to anticipate the computer age a century ahead of her time. Ada was fascinated and enthralled by maths—she joked that her jaw appeared large enough on one portrait we show to write the word ‘Mathematics’ on it—and this exhibition is the first opportunity to see Ada’s mathematical notes together with the extraordinary calculating machines she studied.’

In 1842, Lovelace translated Luigi Menabrea’s account of the Analytical Engine. She was the first to articulate the machine’s significance, publishing a translation and her own extensive notes. The notes, which can be seen in the exhibition, contain the first published algorithm for the Analytical Engine and demonstrate her understanding of the Engine’s potential. This was a machine that could use numbers, not just to represent quantities, but also as abstract values, and it marks the prehistory of the computer age.

Visitors can explore Ada Lovelace’s pioneering ideas through a digital display: Imagining the Analytical Engine. Alongside Babbage’s incredibly detailed Analytical Engine drawings from the Science Museum’s Babbage Archive, visitors can read Lovelace’s personal letters from the British Library and Bodleian Library collections and discover more about her life.

The Ada Lovelace exhibition opens at the Science Museum on Ada Lovelace Day (13 October 2015), an international celebration of the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and maths. This free exhibition will open late until 22.00 every Friday and closes in March 2016.

Visitors can join a series of evening events* from 16–30 October 2015 celebrating Ada Lovelace and exploring how technology can be used in the artistic process. The events, supported by the Biogen Foundation, are free to attend but must be booked in advance online.

Notes to Editors

For more information please contact Will Stanley in the Science Museum Press Office on 020 7942 4429 or via william.stanley@sciencemuseum.org.uk.

The Evening Exchange is a series of events looking at the interfaces between art and science, technology and design, numbers and music. The events include:

Poetical Science

Friday 16 October 2015, 19.00–21.00

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron and, like him, she had a talent for writing. Interactive Fiction is a text-driven digital game. Readers are given the beginning of a story, but navigate their own way to the end, which might not always be the same. Join renowned game developer Emily Short, and have fun learning how to create an interactive story and bring it to completion.

Science of Harmony

Friday 23 October 2015, 19.00–21.00

As she once imagined, Ada Lovelace’s numerical algorithms have been transformed into music. At this Evening Exchange, composer Emily Howard and mathematician Lasse Rempe-Gillen will discuss how music and mathematics intertwine. There’ll be a performance of Emily’s ‘Ada Sketches’ by students from the Royal Northern College of Music and a chance to produce your own mathematical music.

The Evening Exchange at Lates

Wednesday 28 October 2015, 18.45–22.00

October’s Lates delves into the world of computing and coding as we celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Ada Lovelace. Lates will explore the balance between creativity and science in gaming, the future of 3D printing and computer poetry. Also on display will be works from contemporary digital artists, Nina Kov, Gordana Novakovic and Brigitta Zics who are following in Lovelace’s footsteps, combining art and computing. Graphic artist Sydney Padua will be taking us through her 3D animations of how the Analytical Engine would have operated and signing copies of her bestselling graphic novel, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. Visit sciencemuseum.org.uk/lates for more information.

Material and Mechanical

Friday 30 October 2015, 19.00–21.00

Ada Lovelace’s parents had seemingly very different interests. Lord Byron was poetical and dramatic, whereas Lady Byron was scientific and rational. But are the arts and the sciences really so different? At our final Evening Exchange, AXNS Collective will bring scientists and artists together for a conversation about these tensions. We’ll also examine curious inventions to explore how design and science can solve real-life problems in ways we might not expect.

About the Science Museum

As the home of human ingenuity, the Science Museum’s world-class collection forms an enduring record of scientific, technological and medical achievements from across the globe. Welcoming over 3 million visitors a year, the Museum aims to make sense of the science that shapes our lives, inspiring visitors with iconic objects, award-winning exhibitions and incredible stories of scientific achievement.