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Arming American Scientists: NSF and the Provision of Scientific Computing Facilities for Universities, 1950-1973

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129832D
Original Publication Date: 1994-Dec-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 24 page(s) / 93K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

WILLIAM ASPRAY: AUTHOR [+3]

Abstract

This article discusses the role of the US National Science Foundation in the provision of scientific computing facilities for colleges and universities in the period 1950 to 1973. In this period, the NSF played a major role in establishing computing facilities on American campuses for the purposes of scientific research and science education. By the end of this period, most of these programs at NSF had been disbanded, and the foundation was concentrating its support for computing not on the service of other scientific disciplines, but instead on the establishment of a theoretically oriented discipline of computer science. The primary focus here is on NSF institutional history, with only a few examples of the impact of NSF programs. But it is an important part of a larger story of the role of the federal government in establishing American hegemony in computing in this era.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

This record contains textual material that is copyright ©; 1994 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Contact the IEEE Computer Society http://www.computer.org/ (714-821-8380) for copies of the complete work that was the source of this textual material and for all use beyond that as a record from the SPI Database.

Arming American Scientists: NSF and the Provision of Scientific Computing Facilities for Universities, 1950- 1973

WILLIAM ASPRAY

BERNARD O. WILLIAMS

This article discusses the role of the US National Science Foundation in the provision of scientific computing facilities for colleges and universities in the period 1950 to 1973. In this period, the NSF played a major role in establishing computing facilities on American campuses for the purposes of scientific research and science education. By the end of this period, most of these programs at NSF had been disbanded, and the foundation was concentrating its support for computing not on the service of other scientific disciplines, but instead on the establishment of a theoretically oriented discipline of computer science. The primary focus here is on NSF institutional history, with only a few examples of the impact of NSF programs. But it is an important part of a larger story of the role of the federal government in establishing American hegemony in computing in this era.

Over the past four decades the computer has become an indispensable tool of scientific research. Scientists today use digital computers to provide approximate and exact solutions to equations, build comprehensible models of complex problems, process large quantities of data in empirical studies, visualize results through graphical representation, search the literature of other scientific researchers, and control sophisticated laboratory equipment. Computing facilities have also become indispensable in scientific education -- almost as important as the college library. It is not surprising, then, that the installed base of computers in American colleges and universities has grown in net value from nothing at the end of the Second World War to billions of dollars today.

By the mid-1950s, within several years of completion of the first computers, many American schools of higher education had recognized the utility of campus computing facilities. Computers were high-capital items, and they did not seem any more easily within the reach of most universities than other high-capital tools of science, such as observatories and particle accelerators. The National Science Foundation (NSF) took a strong interest in providing computing facilities to the nation's institutions of higher learning. Providing this computer infrastructure to colleges and universities has been one of the foundation's important contributions to American higher education and scientific research. This article describes programs organize...