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November 7, 2003

What's your favorite thing about life with computers?

John Vincent Atanasoff, inventor of the first electronic digital computer, would have been 100 years old this year. Atanasoff, an Iowa State math and physics professor, set out to find a way to do mathematical calculations quickly. His first attempts were unsuccessful. Then in 1937, a frustrated Atanasoff drove 200 miles to an Illinois roadhouse. Over a drink, he began to visualize a computer based on a binary, rather than 10-number, base. The result was the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, completed by Atanasoff and engineering student Clifford Berry in 1942. The first digital electronic computer was the size of a desk, weighed 700 pounds and contained more than 300 vacuum tubes and a mile of wire. It could calculate about one operation every 15 seconds. Today's computers are considerably smaller and faster, but we, like Atanasoff, continue to use them to make our work easier. Here's how Atanasoff's invention continues to help some on campus.

Melanie Eckhart Alvin Clarke Timothy Ashley
Melanie Eckhart
Secretary, mathematics dept.
"I like that it makes compiling data and keeping track of it so much quicker, especially in my department, where they want you to come up with statistics quickly."
Alvin Clarke
Lecturer, English dept.
"The Web is the most useful thing to me. It's a great research and teaching tool. And it's a wonderful democratizing force. It's available to everyone, which is a wonderful thing."
Timothy Ashley
Human resources specialist
"They make life a little more efficient. If a report is given to me on computer, I can sort it, cut and paste and so on. I can't do anything with a paper report."

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Published by: University Relations,
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