Sisters in STEAM

Nathalia Holt's newest book is out, and it's a real treat. Rise of the Rocket Girls chronicles the women "computers" of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from the Cal Tech students who set it up to the launch of the space probe Juno, which is scheduled to start orbiting Jupiter in July. Under various managers, the computing department at JPL actively (and exclusively) hired smart women with a head for numbers and science. It's hard to imagine, but for a long time human calculators were preferred over clunky, bug-ridden machines. As the electronic computers overtook their human rivals, however, JPL retrained its women as computer programmers and engineers. Often rewriting the rules of work and family before the rest of society, these women made sure we got out of Earth's protective bubble and made our baby steps into outer space.

Speaking of computers, Ada Byron Lovelace wrote what was arguably the first computer program. The only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron, Lovelace assisted Charles Babbage, the man credited with creating the first computer, or as he called it, the Analytical Engine. Her seminal contribution was a program calculating Bernoulli numbers, a series of rational numbers with deep connections to number theory. James Essinger writes of this brilliant woman in Ada's Algorithm.

Going backwards in time yet again, there is Hypatia of Alexandria. Michael A.B.Deakin has written an excellent biography that addresses all of her accomplishments. In addition to being the leading mathematician and astronomer of the late 4th and early 5th centuries, she was a top-notch teacher, philosopher and religious thinker. Eventually, this would get Hypatia into trouble in the turbulent times she lived in, and she was murdered by a mob of fanatical Christians. Far from obliterating her work, Hypatia's death has made her a symbol for feminism and intellectual freedom.

There are plenty more women, sung and unsung, who have illuminated the world of science and mathematics. Tell us about them below.