Ada Lovelace letters to be viewable by the public for the first time

Letters written by Ada Lovelace, who worked on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, are to be publicly displayed in the Science Museum for the first time.

The free exhibition will open on October 13, Ada Lovelace Day, and will celebrate the bicentenary of her birth.

It will provide attendees with an in depth look at her life explored through letters written by Lovelace to Victorian technological pioneers Charles Babbage and Michael Faraday.

Lovelace is credited with envisaging the potential that Babbage’s Analytical Engine could have beyond simple mathematics. She articulated the machine’s significance by publishing a translation of a work on the device by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea that included her own extensive notes on.

She is also considered to be the first computer programmer after developing an algorithm to be used on the device.

Lovelace was the daughter of poet Lord Byron and the admired intellect Annabella Milbanke, and studied science and maths in an era when women rarely had access to such subjects.

Her portraits, letters and notes, as well as the published algorithm for the Analytical Engine, will be brought together for the first time in the exhibition. They will be displayed alongside the calculating machines she worked with including a prototype of Babbage’s Difference Engine No.1.

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.”

The letters were previously held in the IET’s Savoy Place. Asha Gage, an archivist with the IET, said that detailed conservation reports were carried out on the letters to ensure they were robust enough to be exhibited for six months.

The Science Museum’s exhibition conditions were also examined and approved before allowing the documents to go on display.

The letters from Lovelace to Michael Faraday include information on her own scientific ambitions and planned research into mesmerism, a largely forgotten theory relating to invisible forces that emanate from animals.

The exhibition will also include a letter from Faraday to Babbage where he refers to Lovelace as an “enchantress who has thrown her magic spell around the most abstract of sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects (in our own country at least) could have exerted over it”.

It will run until March 2016 and will open late until 10pm every Friday.

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