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CRIN: The History of a Laboratory

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129663D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 12 page(s) / 45K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

C. PAIR: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Together with Grenoble, Paris, Toulouse, and Nantes, Nancy was one of the first French universities in which computer science appeared 30 years ago. The history of computer science in each French university has its own particular character. Through such a history (1960-1975) one can understand a certain number of general phenomena.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1990 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

CRIN: The History of a Laboratory

C. PAIR

Together with Grenoble, Paris, Toulouse, and Nantes, Nancy was one of the first French universities in which computer science appeared 30 years ago. The history of computer science in each French university has its own particular character. Through such a history (1960-1975) one can understand a certain number of general phenomena.

Categories and Subject Descriptors: K.2. [Computing Milieux]: History of Computing -- hardware, people, software, theory, K.7.2. [Computing Milieux]: The Computing Profession -- organizations.

Additional Terms: CRIN, University of Nancy, France, CNRS, Algol, Algol 68, DGRST, AFCET, Formal Language, Programming Methodology, Semantics, Syntax, Jean Legras.

At the Beginning there was A Man

There was no reason why computer science (then termed "automatic calculation") should start in Nancy earlier than elsewhere. Certainly it was a matter of a city possessing several schools of engineering, but the rise of computer science did not lie there. The mathematical tradition of Bourbaki's Nancago was well established and the department of mathematics was lively, but that was rather a reason not to concern itself with this "new fashion," as some mathematicians were suggesting. This development at Nancy came from the conception of one man, Jean Legras. He belonged to the general body of mathematicians, but being a mechanical engineer he had been exposed to numerical analysis and industrial applications and he was dissatisfied with purely speculative mathematics. He felt that the future lay elsewhere. This conviction is clearly expressed in a quite prophetic article (Legras 1959).

At the end of 1958 Legras had obtained the loan of an IBM 604 from the IBM Corporation, programmed by a plug board with 12 words of memory. He also introduced the use of electronic machines into his postgraduate course entitled "analysis and numerical calculation," starting in the year 1958-1959 with an enrollment of four students.

In 1959 the science faculty rented an IBM 650 and Jean Legras founded a Centre de Calcul (computing center). He saw computer science as a service science which had to be made available to other areas of study. Very rapidly a few physicists, chemists, crystallographers, mechanical engineers, and physicians were becoming receptive to the new tool. There were those who entrusted tasks to the small team led by J. Legras, and those who came themselves to work on the machine. Some were approaching solutions cautiously and were solving problems by hand at the same time, so as to verify the results. Others were approaching problem solutions in a more determined manner. A crystallographer, for example, developed a matrix problem of which the execution of the solution would take five years, as it was deduced af...