Maria Agnesi 1718-99
Maria Gaetana Agnesi was a brilliant mathematician and philosopher at Bologna University.
She spoke six languages, wrote on differential calculus and Newton's theory of gravity. A formula she devised for the curve that duplicates precisely the volume of a cube is named the 'Agnesi curve'.
In 1608 she publishes a treatise on childbirth with illustrations
and explanations of the causes of miscarriage and premature delivery.
At age 17 she was introduced to Mary Somerville, a mathematician. There she heard about Charles Babbage's ideas for a new calculating engine, the Analytical Engine.
Ada wrote an article about the machine and added that such a machine might be used for both practical and scientific use. She suggested to Babbage writing a plan for how the engine might calculate Bernoulli numbers. This plan is now regarded as the first 'computer program'.
A software language developed by
the U.S. Department of Defense was named 'ADA' in her honor in 1979. Ada
anticipated by more than a century modern technology and computing.
Her influential book 'Silent Spring' (1962) created a worldwide awarness of the danger of pollution. It was based on data of DDT levels in Clear Lake, Ca. It was found that DDT level is 250 times greater in plankton than in it was in the water, 12 000 greater in fish, and in birds that feed on the fish 80 000 greater.
her lifetime for 'preservationist hysteria' Carson's warnings would eventually lead to
a ban on indiscriminate use of DDT.
Her chateau at Cirey in Champagne became one of the outstanding centres of literary, scientific and philosophical activity in France. Her' Dissertation on the Nature and Propagation of Fire' was published by the Academy in 1744.
Her major work was a translation of Newton's 'Principia Mathematica'. Voltaire wrote the preface. The complete work appeared in 1759 and was for many years the only translation of the 'Principia' into French.
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Between 1951 and 1953 Rosalind Franklin came very close to solving the DNA structure. Her X-ray photographs of DNA were called by her peers, "the most beautiful X-ray photographs of any substance ever taken." When Watson saw one of Franklin's photographs, the solution became apparent to him, and the results went into an article in Nature almost immediately. Franklin's work did appear as a supporting article in the same issue of the journal.
A debate about the amount of credit due to Franklin continues. What is clear is that she did have a meaningful role in learning the structure of DNA and that she was a scientist of the first rank.