“Nikola Tesla wasn’t a magician” and “Ada Lovelace introduced loops in her diagram of calculations” were some of the very interesting things discussed by Darryl Cunningham and Professor Ursula Martin at their presentation on the fourth day of the Edinburgh Book Festival.
Cunningham, who prefers the title “cartoonist” than “graphic artist or journalist”, talked about his new book Graphic Science: Seven Journeys of Discovery. In this book, he presents the biographies of eight scientists who are not as popular as Newton, Darwin and Currie, but they had interesting life stories or they did interesting science. However, they did not get the recognition they deserved. Nikola Tesla and Jocelyn Bell Burnell are probably the most famous of the eight scientists, both with particularly fascinating stories.
Cunningham explained that the scientists portrayed in this book were not always right, but they were questioning things and they helped the progression of science. “They weren’t super-humans. They struggled like us”, he said. A conversation with the audience took place later based on these ideas, with the interesting conclusion that science is not a niche, but it is part of our lives, and that science teachers could help to address this and change the public perception of their discipline.
Cunningham believes that cartooning works very well in explaining science. However, he explained that his designs in this book were restricted (for example, not too colourful), because the information he tries to put across is very complex. He also discussed how difficult it was to narrow down which scientists to portray. He specifically said that the further back in the history of science one goes, the more difficult it is to find women or people of colour. “Humanity in general has lost out because of this”, he added. Finally, he mentioned that he didn’t include Ada Lovelace in his book, because she is well-known and because there have been other graphic books for her already published.
Professor Martin’s book Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist however is different than the other books about Ada Lovelace, because it includes a lot of pictures and explanations of Ada’s archived manuscripts. Professor Martin showed the picture of Ada’s diagram of calculations, and explained why it is considered to be the first computer program. She gave a short description of Ada’s explanation of how Charles Babbage’s analytical engine was supposed to be working. She also mentioned that according to Ada’s paper, which was describing the engine’s operation, the engine could do any possible calculation, and that at a later date Alan Turing made Ada’s informal abstract definitions clearer.
Professor Martin supports the idea that Ada Lovelace was a pioneer of computing. She talked about the importance of the archived box full of Ada’s maths scripts and patterns (which researchers were skipping) in understanding Ada’s ideas and thoughts that led to programming and computing as we know them today. A discussion was started by the chairwoman on how Ada seemed to have been interested in everything and to have had an unusually broad education. The discussion was concluded with the remark that even though Ada was privileged (she was daughter of Lord Byron) and a fine scientist, she did not get involved with the scientific organisations of that time and did not get the recognition she deserved, because she was a woman.
Ada Lovelace The Making of a Computer Scientist
Professor Ursula Martin, Christopher Hollings & Adrian Rice
Graphic Science Seven Journeys of Discovery
Image: Ben Snooks via Flickr