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Inside Iowa State
July 2, 1999

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Q: If John Atanasoff was a physics professor, why is the computer science building named for him instead of the physics building?

A: The building now known as Atanasoff Hall was completed in 1969 and called Computer Science Building until 1988, when it was renamed to honor the former faculty member who invented the electronic digital computer in the late 1930s.

Atanasoff's primary appointment as an Iowa State faculty member (1930-1942) was in the mathematics department, although he also was a theoretical physicist. With graduate student Clifford Berry, Atanasoff began work on the electronic digital computer in 1939. Their prototype was built in what essentially was a corridor in the basement of the physics building.

Because of the enormous significance of their invention, the sentiment on campus was that it was appropriate to name the computer science facility for Atanasoff. The State Board of Regents concurred.

Still, the physics department hasn't forgotten Atanasoff. Two items in the physics building foyer -- a display on the Atanasoff-Berry Computer and a plaque installed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers -- pay tribute to him and his invention.

Sources: University Archives, For Whom It Is Named

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