Work is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do. : Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ada Lovelace Day: Maud Menten

This is the day when everyone, worldwide, is invited to celebrate the achievements of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

I would like to mention Dr Maud Menten, whose work I encountered in the form of Michaelis-Menten kinetics when I was an undergraduate. In preparing for this year's ALD I have learned that (a) Menten was a woman, (b) that she was Canadian, and (c) that she was undaunted by the attitudes of her time. When she was not allowed to do research here she took herself off to where she could do it. It's outrageous of course that that should have been necessary.

In trying to fit the Michaelis-Menten equations to data I learned a lot. For instance, you can't expect to estimate four parameters with four data points, especially when error masks the true values. And, using linear approximations to equation systems can make a mess of error structures. And ... well, I've already said I learned much.

Nonetheless I eventually I realised that I was better at applications than discovery and I owe some of that to her. Now that I can look back at this over several decades I am even more amazed by what Menten was able to accomplish.