History of Numerical Analysis


Oral Histories





David J. Wheeler


David Wheeler recalls his work as a research student at the Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory. He discusses the EDSAC and the differences in the outlook and programming methodology between the Cambridge and Institute for Advance Study (Princeton) teams. The difference was motivated by the need to address multiple smaller projects at Cambridge as opposed to a few larger projects in Princeton. He goes on to describe the user-oriented approach on the EDSAC and the influence of this approach on the ORDVAC, ILLIAC and IBM701. He discusses interaction with Douglas Hartree (Cavendish Laboratory), Nelson Blackman (ONR), Friedrich Bauer and others. Finally, he describes his visit to Illinois, his work on the ILLIAC, and his teaching of programming to undergraduates. He remarks on the large number of factor analyses (eigenvalue calculations) run for the social scientists. He also speculates on the impact of John von Neumann on computing, especially in light of the fact that mathematicians tended to disdain calculation.

Key words: EDSAC, ENIAC, computational physics, electronic wave functions, algebraic differentiation, crystallography, myoglobin, interferometry, Fourier synthesis, ILLIAC, ORDVAC, standard functions, function libraries, error reduction, factor analyses, Jacobi method, systems of linear equations

Time frame: 1940's, 1950's

People: Maurice Wilkes, Stanley Gill, John von Neumann, Friedrich Bauer, Douglas Hartree, James Wilkinson, J.C.P. Miller, Nelson Blackman, Herman Goldstine, Abraham Taub

Location: Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory (United Kingdom), Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton), National Physical Laboratory (United Kingdom), Office of Naval Research (ONR), University of Illinois, Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Copyright: Charles Babbage Institute



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