Thursday, December 21, 2017

A Leading Lady Computer

Over the last few years, much has been written about the importance of encouraging girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education. Because women have, historically, been a distinct minority in the math and science professions, learning about those women who have had a major impact on today’s technology is always inspiring. One such woman was Adele Katz Goldstine, whose work in computer programming was ground-breaking.

Born on December 21, 1920, in New York City, Adele Katz attended both Hunter College High School and Hunter College, from which she received a Bachelors in Mathematics. She then went on to receive a Masters degree in Mathematics from the University of Michigan, where she also met her husband, Herman Goldstine, who was one of the developers of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer).

The Goldstines moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Adele Goldstine joined the faculty of University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering. Funded by the army, the Moore School included a pool of close to 80 female “computers,” mathematicians who manually performed complex differential calculations. During the war, they analysed ballistic trajectories.

In 1945, the army decided to try to use ENIAC to compute trajectories. Goldstine, who had already written one of the earliest computer programs, was charged with training six* of the school’s “computers” to use ENIAC. The machine was made up of 40 eight-foot panels that had to be manually manipulated to run different formulas and programs. Goldstine also wrote an operating manual for the machine. The ENIAC ladies took the giant computer to the next level by engineering it to store multiple programs.

 After the war, Adele Goldstine worked on programs to be run on ENIAC for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Sadly, at the young age of 43, Goldstine, who was the mother of 2 young children, lost her life to cancer in 1964.

 * The six ladies were: Kay McNulty Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum.

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