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September 12, 2003

Modern computing symposium will honor Atanasoff

John Vincent Atanasoff
by Debra Gibson
If John Vincent Atanasoff were alive today, he probably would be flattered by Iowa State plans to celebrate his 100th birthday next month.

In a salute to Atanasoff, the inventor of the electronic digital computer and former Iowa State physics and math professor, ISU has organized the International Symposium on Modern Computing Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in the Scheman Building. Leading experts will discuss new computer technologies with the potential to again change the world.

Carl Chang, professor and chair, computer science, and S.S. Venkata, professor, electrical and computer engineering and holder of the Palmer chair, are serving as co-chairs of the symposium.

Symposium attendees will participate in workshops within the broader areas of computational intelligence, application-specific IT infrastructures, and high-performance and grid computing.

"This will be a wonderful opportunity to focus the attention on John Vincent Atanasoff and his invention, which still in many circles does not receive the national and international recognition it deserves," Venkata said. "Each of these workshops will bring in stellar academics and faculty members from other universities.

"Because it is a celebration of Atanasoff, this particular program of experts probably won't be repeated elsewhere. By the end of the conference, it will be known to the world that he was indeed the pioneer for digital computers," he added.

Plenary speakers at the symposium include Gordon Bell, senior researcher for Microsoft; Douglas E. Van Houweling, president and CEO, Internet2 and professor, University of Michigan; and George Strawn, chief information officer, National Science Foundation and former professor and director of the Iowa State University Computation Center.

Also attending will be Elena Poptodorova, Bulgaria's ambassador to the United States. That country awarded Atanasoff, whose father was Bulgarian, its highest science award. Atanasoff also was a member of the Bulgarian Academy of Science.

During the Oct. 31 breakfast, a panel will discuss the court case, Honeywell vs. Sperry Rand, that, in the early 1970s, legally established Atanasoff as the creator of the first electronic digital computer. Panel members will include Alice Rowe Burks, author of the recently published Who Invented The Computer? The Legal Battle That Changed Computing History; Charles G. Call, an electrical engineer and patent attorney who represented Honeywell on what has become known as "the ENIAC case"; and John Gustafson, principal investigator for Sun Microsystems Inc. and a former ISU professor who helped build a replica of Atanasoff's original computer.

Registration is available online at, or by calling ISU Conference Services, 4-5366. Registration fees increase Oct. 1.

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