Ada Lovelace Day: Mary Lou Jepsen
Happy Ada Lovelace Day! All over the world, bloggers are highlighting women they admire in the computer and information technology fields. The day shares its namesake with the Ada programming language. Both pay homage to the world’s very first computer programmer- a woman!
For Ada Lovelace Day 2009, I choose to highlight Mary Lou Jepsen.
Mary Lou Jepsen (Photo by eschipul)
Mary Lou Jepsen was the founding Chief Technology Officer for One Laptop Per Child. Under her tenure, the laptop went from a concept that was scoffed at to a mass produced product. It was the lowest cost laptop ever made. It was the most environmentally-friendly laptop ever made. It was rugged and yet used 15 times less power than the Energy Star requirements.
This laptop was specifically developed to provide educational opportunities to the world’s poorest children. Today, the laptops are in action in a variety of locations and sports a diverse user base:
(Photos by One Laptop Per Child)
And you can add Elizabeth City, North Carolina to that large list of locales! During the Give 1 Get 1 program in 2007, Ryan Somma (see last demographic above) procured one. It’s now one of the laptops in use by the neighborhood children in the evenings. I would classify our house as a “harsh environment”. We have rambunctious kids coming and going not to mention an ample inventory of hair and dander courtesy of two dogs and two cats. The rugged OLPC was designed for rural areas and adapts quite well to our home.
Mary Lou Jepsen’s background comes in displays. Before One Laptop Per Child, she was the co-creator of the first holographic video system and she was the CTO of Intel’s display division. So with the OLPC, it should be no surprise that one of the key innovations is with the laptop’s screen.
50% of the world’s children learn outside. In order for an educational laptop to succeed in reaching the world’s children, it needs to be easy to read… outside… in the direct sunlight. So Jepsen designed just that. When it was released, the OLPC was the only laptop on the market that was sunlight readable.
With participation in nature-based activities (hiking, fishing, camping, etc) in the U.S. declining at over 1% a year since 1981, Jepsen’s innovation is particularly appealing to me. Not only does it help children in outdoor classrooms, but it gives children everywhere, including Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the opportunity to be connected AND be outside at the same time. A child can breathe fresh air, enjoy the outdoors and if something catches his/her eye, Wikipedia or perhaps iNaturalist.org can be pulled up to learn more.
One last note about Mary Lou Jepsen. Like Charles Darwin, she found herself plagued with health issues. When she was in her late twenties, she suffered from horrible heartaches and slept 20 hours a day. Unlike Darwin, the cause of her woes was thankfully located. She had a brain tumor, on her pituitary gland to be exact. The tumor was removed, but the procedure left her without the ability to make hormones. Since then, she takes 12 pills a day to maintain the hormone levels her body can’t.
Jepsen’s career has been filled with innovation and her work has touched the lives of so many across the globe. I think it is safe to say– health did not hold her back.