Shannon Matilda Wells Lucid is an American biochemist and a NASA astronaut. At one time, she held the record for the longest duration stay in space by an American, as well as by a woman. She has flown in space five times including a prolonged mission aboard the Mir space station. Lucid was selected for the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1978. Of the six women in this first class with female astronauts, Lucid was the only one who was a mother at the time of being hired. Lucid is best known for her fifth spaceflight, when she spent 188 days in space, from March 22 to September 26, 1996, including 179 days aboard Mir, the Russian space station. Both to and from Mir, she travelled on Space Shuttle Atlantis, launching on STS-76 and returning on STS-79. Her stay on Mir was not expected to last so long but her return was delayed twice, extending her stay by about six weeks. During the mission she performed numerous life science and physical science experiments. As a result of her time aboard Mir, she held the record for the most hours in orbit by a non-Russian and most hours in orbit by a woman.
Ariel Schrag is an American cartoonist and television writer who achieved critical recognition at an unusually early age for her autobiographical comics. While attending high school in Berkeley, California, Schrag self-published her first comic series, Awkward, depicting events from her freshman year, originally selling copies to friends and family. Slave Labor Graphics subsequently reprinted Awkward as a graphic novel, followed by three more books based on her next three years of school: Definition, Potential, and Likewise. The books were republished by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster in 2008 and 2009. The books tell stories of family life, going to concerts, experimenting with drugs, high school crushes, and coming out as a bisexual and later as a lesbian. Schrag was nominated for the 1998 Kimberly Yale Award for Best New Talent (administered by the Friends of Lulu). Killer Films is producing a movie adaptation of Potential; Schrag has written the screenplay. Schrag graduated from Berkeley High School in 1998. She graduated from Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in English in 2003, and has continued to work as a cartoonist.
Sarah Jane Vowell is an American author, journalist, essayist and social commentator. Often referred to as a “social observer,” Vowell has written six nonfiction books on American history and culture, most recently Unfamiliar Fishes which was published in 2011. She was a contributing editor for the radio program This American Life on Public Radio International from 1996–2008, where she produced numerous commentaries and documentaries and toured the country in many of the program’s live shows. She was also the voice of Violet in the animated film The Incredibles. Vowell has appeared on television shows such as Nightline, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Colbert Report, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and the Late Show with David Letterman. She also appeared several times on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. In April 2006, Vowell served as the keynote speaker at the 27th Annual Kentucky Women Writers Conference. In August and September 2006, she toured the United States as part of the Revenge Of The Book Eaters national tour, which benefits the children’s literacy centers 826NYC, 826CHI, 826 Valencia, 826LA, 826 Michigan, and 826 Seattle. Vowell also provided commentary in Robert Wuhl’s 2005 Assume the Position HBO specials.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, born Augusta Ada Byron, was an English writer chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the analytical engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine; as such she is regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. She was the only legitimate child of the poet Lord Byron (with Anne Isabella Milbanke), but had no relationship with her father, who died when she was nine. As a young adult she took an interest in mathematics, and in particular Babbage’s work on the analytical engine. Between 1842 and 1843 she translated an article by Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea on the engine, which she supplemented with a set of notes of her own. These notes contain what is considered the first computer program—that is, an algorithm encoded for processing by a machine. Though Babbage’s engine was never built, Lovelace’s notes are important in the early history of computers. She also foresaw the capability of computers to go beyond mere calculating or number-crunching while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on these capabilities. Her image can be seen on the Microsoft product authenticity hologram stickers. The British Computer Society annually awards a medal in her name.
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a Somali-Dutch-American feminist and atheist activist, writer and politician who is known for her views critical of female genital mutilation and Islam. She wrote the screenplay for Theo van Gogh’s movie Submission, after which she and the director both received death threats, and the director was murdered. The daughter of the Somali politician and opposition leader Hirsi Magan Isse, she is a founder of the women’s rights organisation the AHA Foundation. When she was eight, Hirsi Ali’s family left Somalia for Saudi Arabia, then Ethiopia, and eventually settled in Kenya. She sought and obtained political asylum in the Netherlands in 1992, under circumstances that later became the centre of a political controversy. In 2003 she was elected a member of the House of Representatives (the lower house of the Dutch parliament), representing the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). A political crisis surrounding the potential stripping of her Dutch citizenship led to her resignation from the parliament, and led indirectly to the fall of the second Balkenende cabinet in 2006.
Shakuntala Devi is a calculating prodigy who was born in Bangalore, India. Her father worked in a “Brahmin circus” as a trapeze and tightrope performer, and later as a lion tamer and a human cannonball. Her calculating gifts first demonstrated themselves while she was doing card tricks with her father when she was three. They report she “beat” them by memorization of cards rather than by sleight of hand. By age six she demonstrated her calculation and memorization abilities at the University of Mysore. At the age of eight she had success at Annamalai University by doing the same. In 1977 she extracted the 23rd root of a 201-digit number mentally. She did this 12 seconds faster than the Univac-1108. On June 18, 1980 she demonstrated the multiplication of two 13-digit numbers 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779 picked at random by the Computer Department of Imperial College, London. She answered the question in 28 seconds. However, this time is more likely the time for dictating the answer (a 26-digit number) than the time for the mental calculation (the time of 28 seconds was quoted on her own website). Her correct answer was 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730. This event is mentioned on page 26 of the 1995 Guinness Book of Records ISBN 0-553-56942-2. In 2006 she released a new book called In the Wonderland of Numbers with Orient Paperbacks which talks about a girl Neha and her fascination for numbers.
Lois McMaster Bujold is an American author of science fiction and fantasy works. Bujold is one of the most acclaimed writers in her field, having won the prestigious Hugo Award for best novel four times, matching Robert A. Heinlein’s record. Her novella The Mountains of Mourning won both the Hugo Award and Nebula Award. In the fantasy genre, The Curse of Chalion won the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature and was nominated for the 2002 World Fantasy Award for best novel, and both her fourth Hugo Award and second Nebula Award were for Paladin of Souls. In 2011 she was awarded the Skylark Award. The bulk of Bujold’s works are part of three separate book series: the Vorkosigan Saga, the Chalion Series, and the Sharing Knife series.