Ada Lovelace opera and lightning talks highlight women’s contributions to computing

The event featured eight TED-style computer science talks by female faculty and an opera performance.

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Ada Lovelace (played by Helen Hass) attempts to command the attention of Charles Babbage (Zach Crowle) as he obsesses over his Analytical Engine.

Women are making exciting and impactful contributions to the world through computer science – and they have been doing so since the earliest computing machines were imagined. That was the message that inspired hundreds of attendees at a creative and engaging event in Stamps Auditorium on the evening of November 16.

That event – the Ada Lovelace Opera – was a celebration of women in computing.

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Prof. Jenna Wiens talks about data science and its powerful role in containing the spread of infectious disease.

Organized by Girls Encoded and co-directed by Prof. Rada Mihalcea, CSE graduate student Laura Wendlandt, and School of Music, Theater & Dance graduate student Helen Hass, the event featured computer science talks and an opera performance.

The evening began with eight TED-style lightning talks by female faculty and students at UM who are engaged in cutting-edge computing research. The talks were followed by an opera on Ada Lovelace’s establishment as the research partner of inventor Charles Babbage in the 1840s. The opera was performed by students in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

Ada Lovelace is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer, and she – more than Babbage – recognized that his Analytical Engine had applications beyond purely calculating.

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Prof. Reetuparna Das talked about building smarter and more efficient computer processors.

“Throughout the history of computer science, women have been remarkable contributors to the field,” said Prof. Mihalcea. “I hope that their example will inspire more girls to become computer scientists and make a difference – in the field and beyond.”

During the event, Lovelace’s story was told in vignettes by computer science students in the time between the lightning talks. After the talks, the opera imagined Lovelace’s position as a woman in the 1840s navigating gender roles in order to establish her research relationship with Babbage.

“I was very pleased to see both families with young girls and students and faculty from across campus at the event,” said Wendlandt. “This was a unique opportunity to reach out to people across the community and highlight many exciting developments women are making in computer science.”

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Undergraduate Isabelle Wong described how crowdsourcing can remove barriers to collaborative computing.


Eight lightning talks were given (in order of appearance):

Ceren Budak
Assistant Professor, School of Information
Computational Approaches for Studying Political Communication

Reetuparna Das
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Frontiers in Processor Design

Isabelle Wong
Undergraduate Student in Computer Science and Engineering
Using Human Intelligence to Drive Effortless Creation

Jenna Wiens
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Machine Learning for Healthcare: Challenges & Opportunities

Aparna Garimella
Graduate Student in Computer Science and Engineering
Demographic-Aware Natural Language Processing

Valeria Bertacco
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Initiatives at the Rackham Graduate School
Driving Ada’s Legacy into the 21st Century

Necmiye Ozay
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
From Robots to Spacecraft: Algorithms for Designing Autonomous Cyber-Physical Systems

Emily Mower Provost
Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Human-Centered Computing: Using Speech to Understand Behavior

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Prof. Emily Mower Provost describes how computers can monitor emotions to provide support for bipolar individuals.


Performers in the opera (in order of appearance):

Nicholas Roehler
Graduate Student in Music, Theater & Dance
Music Director/Pianist

Lucas Alvarado
Undergraduate Student in Music, Theater & Dance
William Lovelace

Helen Hass
Graduate Student in Music, Theater & Dance
Ada Lovelace

Zachary Crowle
Graduate Student in Music, Theater & Dance
Charles Babbage

Additional Recognitions
Several volunteers contributed toward making this event possible: Allison McDonald, Ritam Mehta, Betsy Wall, MeiXing Dong, Ana Cuza, Zoe Black, Aishwarya Reganti, and Veronica Perez-Rosas.

Videos of the Performance and Talks