John McCarroll, University Relations, (515) 294-6136
JOHN ATANASOFF II VISITS REPLICA OF FIRST COMPUTER
AMES, Iowa -- John V. Atanasoff II, whose father led the world into the computer age, took a step back in time today (Aug. 11) to see a recreation of his father's invention. During a visit to Iowa State University, Atanasoff II was given an operational demonstration of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC) replica.
During the visit, Iowa State officials announced that the working replica will be unveiled during a special event Oct. 8 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. This will be the first opportunity for the general public to see the ABC replica.
The replica is being built as a tribute to computer pioneers John V. Atanasoff and Clifford Berry, who during 1939-42 designed and built the world's first electronic digital computer at Iowa State University. Atanasoff's idea was to develop a machine to automatically solve simultaneous linear equations with 20 to 30 unknowns. This would permit his graduate physics students to more rapidly solve complex mathematical equations. Berry was a graduate student when he helped Atanasoff develop the ABC.
"It's exciting and a pleasure to see this working replica once again demonstrate the capabilities of the ABC invention," said Atanasoff, CEO and Chairman of Colorado MEDtech, Inc., Boulder, Colorado, which develops and manufactures medical devices. "I've followed the progress of the ABC team during the course of the project, and I'm impressed they've worked diligently to produce an authentic, working replica of my
father's invention. This is a fitting tribute to the pioneering work and a demonstration to the computer world of the significance of the ABC, the first electronic digital computer."
"It's very important to have this replica and honor these two pioneers of modern computing," said Joel Snow, director of Iowa State's Institute for Physical Research and Technology (IPRT). "We can think of no better way to honor their genius than to rebuild the first electronic digital computer."
Business and government leaders are expected to attend the Washington, D.C. event, along with members of the Atanasoff family. It will mark the conclusion to a long and challenging project taken on by several Ames Laboratory and Iowa State engineers, technicians, researchers and students to recreate the ABC. The team's primary goal was to make the full-scale, working computer replica as true to the original as possible. This required significant detective work in ferreting out details on how the original ABC operated and in securing authentic parts for the replica.
The original ABC embodied several design principles for computing that are used to this day. These include the concept of electronic digital computation, the use of a binary system of arithmetic, separation of computing and memory functions, regenerative drum memory, use of electronic amplifiers as on-off switches, circuits for logical addition and subtraction, clocked control of electronic operation and modular design construction. Because of the urgency of World War II, Astanasoff and Berry discontinued work on the project. Unfortunately, the original computer was dismantled and discarded.
After the unveiling in Washington, D.C., the ABC replica will be returned to Iowa where it will be displayed in several locations. Plans for the Iowa displays are not final. The replica and the public displays are being financed by public and private donations, including major contributions from: John Atanasoff II; alumni Charles and Marge Durham, George and Helen Booth and Richard Squires; and the Ames Economic Development Commission.
Today, Iowa State is a leader in computer technology. Iowa State provides several advanced programs and projects that are on the cutting edge of computer technology, including the use of advanced computer and communications technologies for education and research and the exploration and refinement of virtual reality technologies.
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