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KATIE HAFNER: Hello Science Talk Audience / Hello 60-second science listener!

I’m Katie Hafner, host The lost women of science. Each season is devoted to the life and work of a researcher who has not received the recognition she deserves.

We call this season “A grasshopper in very tall grass”, and it’s all about Klara Dan von Neumann. Klari, as she was called by friends, was one of the world’s first computer programmers.

I have been writing about computers for a very long time, more than 30 years in fact. I even wrote a story about the internet in 1996, called Where wizards stay up late. And the wizards? All men.

I’ve been to this beat before so For a long time, I thought I knew all the great characters. But then I stumbled across Klara von Neumann’s name over the past year, and I drew a blank. How had I missed her?

When I asked some big hits in the computer science world about her, they all got the same answer: WHO?

I could not shake off the feeling that here was this really “lost” computer woman – who was still connected to very well-known stories and people. She was involved in nuclear weapons research, she worked for Los Alamos, she coded for ENIAC, one of the earliest electronic computers.

And she ran in a circle of famous scientists – people like Albert Einstein, J. Robert Oppenheimer and her own husband, John von Neumann, a famous Hungarian scientist who was considered one of the smartest people in life.

I thought Klari could teach us a thing or two about this time – the dawn of electronic computers and nuclear warfare. And so we started digging. This season is the result of what we found.

Here is the trailer:


UNKNOWN # 1: Do I know who Klara von Neumann is?

UNKNOWN # 2: I’m ashamed to say I’ve never heard of her.

UNKNOWN # 1: Wasn’t she, did she have nothing to do with the weather?

UNKNOWN # 3: I’ve heard of John von Neumann

UNKNOWN # 4: I’m not even sure how to pronounce her name.

UNKNOWN # 5: Was she related to Newman at Seinfeld?

KATIE HAFNER: I’m Katie Hafner, host The lost women of sciencewhere we reveal the remarkable work of overlooked scientists.

NATHAN ENSMENGER: What Klara von Neumann is doing is helping to define what is possible on this new type of machine.

MARINA WHITMAN: She eventually became a kind of super programmer.

KATIE HAFNER: Their stories are often untold. Their contribution unconfirmed.

GEORGE DYSON: Klara’s role was kind of hidden because she had been working on the very secret bomb calculations.

CLAIRE EVANS: Women were allowed to be programmers and had to make such a big impact on programming because that job was not considered important.

KATIE HAFNER: In 1947 it was so Klara and she code that made nuclear simulations possible.

ANANYO BHATTACHARYA: Programming was this whole new discipline, so really everyone started on the ground floor as it was.

MARINA WHITMAN: She always said she liked it because she liked puzzles. And this was a kind of puzzle.

THOMAS HAIGH: I mean, she’s like in Los Alamos like someone with absolutely no education in physics or math talking one-on-one with Nobel laureates, which is pretty incredible.

KATIE HAFNER: And she worked with a whole new technology, deep inside a world that has been forever changed by nuclear weapons.

CLAIRE EVANS: There is this connection between death and computer use that is insoluble and inevitable in this story.

KATIE HAFNER: Join us as we try to understand the origins of modern computer use, through the story of an extraordinary woman.

GEORGE DYSON: She was like there at the moment of creation. If you look at this as a kind of, you know, cradle in a crib type, she, she held the cradle.

KATIE HAFNER: Season 2 of Lost Women of Science comes on March 31st. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

[End trailer]

KATIE HAFNER: This season takes us on a journey from wild parties in Budapest and game rounds in Monte Carlo to the tranquil academic world of Princeton and the Wild West of Los Alamos in New Mexico. Clari’s eventful life adds color to this crucial moment in history.

Married four – maybe five – times. Master of Figure Skating. Computer pioneer. How could we have missed her?

Ratta in The lost women of science to get the whole story of a grasshopper in very tall grass.

New Technology Era

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