Rough Science on Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day when we share stories “…about a woman — whether an engineer, a scientist, a technologist or mathematician — who has inspired you to become who you are today” in honour of Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer (for a ‘computer’ that never existed in her lifetime!)

This is a really good idea but I was having a hard time deciding who to write about. As I explained last year I didn’t really have any inspiring female teachers or role models growing up. I make no apology therefore for turning to the one medium that was showing me women in scientific roles (back in the dark ages before Twitter and blogging): TV, and more specifically, a program from around the turn of the century called Rough Science, which dropped an intrepid group of scientists into an exotic environment (Zanziber, Colorado, New Zealand, Carriacou for example) and challenged them to use their science know-how to solve a variety of problems.

One of the best things about the program was that it included a mix of male and female scientists, and showed them all having ideas, building stuff and generally making science look like a lot of fun. The one I remember most is Kathy Sykes, a physicist (and now Professor of Sciences and Society at Bristol University) whose irrepressible joy in what she was doing really shone through.

Here’s a classic episode from series two. The team are in a tropical paradise, but need a way to cool day and protect themselves from the heat. Problem is, they have to build it all from scratch…

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