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Biographies: The History of Computing Science at the University of Alberta Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129926D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Apr-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 11 page(s) / 43K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

IEEE Computer Society: OWNER


Biographies: The History of Computing Science at the University of Alberta

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Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Biographies: The History of Computing Science at the University of Alberta

Keith Smillie recounts personal recollections of how computing science found a place in the traditional structure of a university.

The 1950s -- Origins

Computing began at the University of Alberta long before the first electronic digital computer was introduced. In 1929 Professor J.W. Campbell of the Department of Mathematics published a small book of mathematical tables, some of which he had himself prepared on a hand calculator. In the 1940s there were only one or two electric desk calculators in the whole department, although students taking elementary statistics had access to small Monroe calculators that were cranked by hand. By 1962 many of the old calculators were almost worn out, and some newer types of hand calculators, probably Odhners, were purchased. A little later some electromechanical calculators and a few electronic models were purchased.

The first use of an electronic computer was probably in the Department of Physics, which in May 1957 established a link with the Ferranti Computer, known as FERUT, in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. It used World War II vacuum tubes and occupied a large room. Input and output was by five-hole punched paper teletype tape. The machine had the capacity of one of today's programmable pocket calculators but was much less reliable. Although a crew of eight engineers was required for maintenance, it could not be depended upon to run without failure for more than half an hour or so. The Edmonton terminal was a teletype machine in a closet in the basement of the Arts Building. The National Research Council paid for the computer time. It was used one evening a week throughout the summer of 1957 by several faculty members in the Department of Physics and their graduate students.

In the same month that the link was established with FERUT, the president of the university, Dr. Andrew Stewart, appointed a "Committee on Electronic Equipment" to make an assessment of computing needs at the University. In July the Committee recommended the purchase of an LOP-30 at a price of $40,000 dollars. The computer was installed in October making the University of Alberta the third university in Canada to acquire a computer, after the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

The LOP-30 was installed in the basement of the Arts Building but was moved later to the Arts Building Annex. The Computing Centre started as an open shop with the users doing their own programming. Technical assistance to users was furnished by students who gave full-time support during the summer months and part-time support during the academic year. One of these students was Ursula Bielenstein-now Ursula Maydell-who became the first...