129 Pages
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First in the Field


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129 Pages


First in the Field: Breaking Ground in Computer Science at Purdue University chronicles the history and development of the first computer science department established at a university in the United States. The backdrop for this groundbreaking academic achievement is Purdue in the 1950s when mathematicians, statisticians, engineers, and scientists from various departments were searching for faster and more efficient ways to conduct their research. These were fertile times, as recognized by Purdue’s President Frederick L. Hovde, whose support of what was to become the first “university-centered” computer center in America laid the foundation for the nation’s first department of computer science.The book pulls together strands of the story from previously unpublished texts and photographs, as well as published articles and interviews, to provide the first complete historical account of the genesis of the Department of Computer Sciences at Purdue, and its continued growth up to the present. It is a fascinating story with parallels to the “space race,” involving many players, some of whose contributions have gone previously unacknowledged in the heat of the race. Filled with unique historical anecdotes detailing the challenges of legitimizing the new academic field, these stories bring to life the strong convictions of a group of pioneering thinkers that continue to resonate for us today. The raw determination required to transform a computing laboratory that offered early programming courses into a full-fledged computer center and a department offering degrees in computer science characterizes this story of interest to anyone intrigued by the pathways creativity takes in scientific endeavors. It is a story that matters because it was, and is, an ongoing achievement of leadership in education and research in a field that has totally revolutionized our society.



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Published 15 July 2019
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EAN13 9781557539120
Language English
Document size 30 MB

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 First in the Field: BREAKING GROUND  IN COMPUTER SCIENCE  at Purdue University by Robin Lea Pyle
 First in the Field: BREAKING GROUND  IN COMPUTER SCIENCE  at Purdue University by Robin Lea Pyle
Entrance to the lobby of the Lawson Computer Science Building
© 2015 Purdue University
CataloginginPublication Data available
All images are copyright of and used with permission of Purdue University. Any duplication without permission is forbidden.
ISBN 9781626710368
Front Cover: Dr. Alan J. Perlis, Purdue Computing Laboratory head, demonstrates new Datatron 204 to (left to right) Statistical and Computing Laboratory Director Carl Kossack, President Hovde, and Dean of Engineering George Hawkins, 1954.
Back Cover: Department of Computer Sciences Founding Head Samuel Conte (standing to right) and Professor Duane Pyle (sitting) at April 1963 Dedication Celebration of Purdue's new IBM 7090.
Foreword.................................................................. vii
Introduction ............................................................ viii
Chapter 1: Between the Fields................................. 1
Chapter 2: Breaking Ground .................................. 22
Chapter 3: Planting the Seed ................................. 42
Chapter 4: Metamorphosis .................................... 66
Chapter 5: Growing Pains ...................................... 76
Chapter 6: The Flowering....................................... 86
Chapter 7: The Future ............................................. 98
Chapter 8: Epilogue .............................................. 100
Department of Computer Sciences People ....... 102
First in the Field: Acknowledgments ................. 116
The idea of creating a coffee table Laboratory in the Engineering Administration book about the history of the Building to our current stateof theart facility Purdue Department of Computer at the Richard and Patricia Lawson Computer Sciences was born from the exciting Science Building, we’ve witnessed a phenomenal interactions between faculty, expansion of our program. students, staff, and alumni during We are grateful to our founding department head the celebration of our department’s Sam Conte, whose bold vision for computer fiftieth anniversary. We are still science combined with his leadership a young department in securing major support from the in comparison to National Science Foundation and a majority of other the Purdue administration were a academic disciplines, significant catalyst in the development but having passed of our current department. our fiftieth birthday, We hope that the stories and we have attained a photographs on the following pages maturity that warrants inspire each of you to continue to build commemorating our upon the rich legacy of our founders. collective journey. Head of Department Our collective history,First in the Our history isof Computer Sciences Field: Breaking Ground in Computer Sunil Prabhakar characterized by a Science at Purdue University, is our sincere determination attempt to capture the defining moments of our to push the boundaries of what is commemorative process. As we reflect on our possible (or comprehensible) within history, we invite the members of our Purdue the study of computer science. Computer Sciences family to share their own None of us could have predicted recollections and images in a portal designated how computer science would grow for this purpose on the Department of Computer to become a part of our daily lives. Sciences website. Throughout our history, the pioneers We are confident that the next fifty years hold of our department maintained an great promise, as we look back with pride and unfaltering perseverance, surviving move forward with excitement. the successive phases of growth and challenges. From our humble beginnings in the Computing
First in the Field: INTRODUCTION significance of any “The best revolutionaries are those that existing records detailing overthrow their own current order, with no how it happened that expectation of reward, but because it is right.” Purdue was able to lead (Benn Konsynski, PhD ’76) the nation in establishing computer science as an In the mid1950s and early 1960s at Purdue independent academic University, a diverse mix of individuals with field by instituting the varied backgrounds came together and started first computer science a revolution—laying the groundwork for the department in the formation of the academic field of computer northern hemisphere, science. One of the early participants in computing headed by Samuel activities at Purdue, Duane Pyle, filled four loose Conte, in the fall of 1962. leaf notebook binders with the only surviving copies of documents relating to the evolving On March 30, 1992, as program from 1952 to 1970 and shared them with part of the thirtieth his colleague Saul Rosen, making it possible to year celebration of its illuminate the collaborative work that spawned founding, Purdue’s this monumental achievement. Department of Computer L. Duane Pyle, PhD mathematics, Sciences videotaped an In the summer of 1981, at Rosen’sPurdue University, 1960 “Interview with Duane request, Pyle recorded an oral Pyle on the Early History of Computer Science at commentary on the events Purdue” (based on and expanding upon Pyle’s chronicled in his notebooks, earlier chronicle, “Recollections Regarding the titling the transcription of his History of Computing at Purdue University”). It commentary “Recollections is this interview, together with Richard Kenyon’s Regarding the History of recollections and other materials gathered from Computing at Purdue University.” that time, that provided the jumpingoff point for Richard R. Kenyon, Pyle’s close First in the Field: Breaking Ground in Computer friend and fellow faculty member Science at Purdue University.Pyle’s account, in those early days, also preserved through stories involving many people and a important documents, including variety of events, reveals that the unprecedented letters between himself, Pyle, feat of Purdue’s having produced the first academic Rosen, Purdue historian Robert department of computer science in America is Topping, and Bernard Galler, made even more significant by cognizance of just editorinchief of theAnnals of how large the playing field was and how many the History of Computing.These Samuel D. Conte, PhD applied mathematics, players were involved in the “contest” leading up letters speak to the historical University of Michigan, 1950 to the department’s founding.
For Duane Pyle, in his 1992 interview, to have stated with such conviction that a proposal submitted to Purdue’s President Hovde in 1961 suggesting the creation of a computing research center and graduate program wasstilla very important document is itself worth pondering. Pyle had left Purdue in 1971 to establish the undergraduate program in computer science at the University of Houston; why would he feel so strongly about a document written over thirty years earlier at a university where he no longer served on the faculty? (In the spring of 1962, to emphasize the broad support of computing at Purdue, he had attached the aforementioned "Proposal of Ad Hoc Committee on Computers" as an appendix to an NSF grant application written by himself and Felix Haas, in early recognition of its significance.)
Saul Rosen, PhD mathematics, University of Pennsylvania, 1950
Richard R. Kenyon, PhD electrical engineering, Purdue University, 1961
A perusal of the backgrounds and positions held by members of the Ad Hoc Committee who contributed to the proposal is also intriguing; besides including highlevel administrators and heads of a variety of departments, its lead author Stanley Reiter was an influential Krannert Professor of Economics and Mathematics whose distinguished career included participating in early computing work related to operations research and later coauthoringDesigning Economic Mechanismswith the Nobel Prize– winning economist Leonid Hurwicz.