Thursday, February 23, 6 p.m.
Augustana College's Wallenberg Hall, 3520 Seventh Avenue, Rock IL
With the focus of its celebration a 1990 recipient of the United States National Medal of Technology – the highest national honor conferred for achievements related to technological progress – the February 23 program Birth of the Computer: The John Atanasoff Story will be held in Augustana College's Wallenberg Hall, offering attendees insight into the inventor of the electronic digital computer and his reported ties to the Quad Cities area.
Born in 1903 in Hamilton, New York, Atanasoff received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Florida, and continued his education at Ames' Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), where he earned a master's degree in mathematics in 1926. After Atanasoff went on to receive a PhD in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he accepted an assistant professorship at Iowa State College in mathematics and physics, and partly due to the drudgery of using the mechanical Monroe calculator – the best tool available while he was writing his doctoral thesis – he began to search for faster methods of computation. In 1936, Atanasoff invented an analog calculator for analyzing surface geometry, and with the assistance of his graduate student Clifford Berry and a grant of $650 received in September of 1939, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC) was prototyped that November. According to Atanasoff, several operative principles of the ABC were conceived by him during the winter of 1938 following a two-hour drive to Rock Island, Illinois.
In the February 23 Birth of the Computer event, Atanasoff's accomplishments will be celebrated through both a viewing of the 45-minute documentary Atanasoff: Father of the Computer and a panel discussion on the inventor's time spent in the Quad Cities and the ABC principals reportedly scribbled on a bar napkin from a local tavern. Panel presenters include Dr. Ashfaq Khokar, chair of electrical and computer engineering at Iowa State University; Mark Ridolfi, managing editor of the North Scott Press who interviewed Atanasoff in 1985; and Shawn Beattie, manager of educational technology at Augustana College.
“This particular event looks at the link between Rock Island and the invention of the first electronic digital computer by Iowa State physicist John Atanasoff,” said Beattie, who helped bring the full-size replica of Atanasoff’s computer to Augustana in 1998. “He spent an evening in Rock Island in the winter of 1937-38. While here, he came up with four concepts for his first computer that are still in use in today's computers.”
Birth of the Computer: The John Atanasoff Story will take place on February 23 in the Wallenberg Hall of Rock Island's Augustana College, participation in the 6 p.m. event is free, and a reception will follow at Rock Island's Bent River Brewing Company (512 24th Street). For more information, visit Augustana.edu.