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2020 computing

Milestones in scientific computing

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1946: Technician manipulating 1 of hundreds of dials on panel of IBM's room-size ENIAC computer Credit: Time Life Credit: Pictures/Getty Images. 1956: February 1955: Dr Prinz of Ferranti sets the Manchester University computer a chess problem taken from the New Statesman. The computer checkmated in two moves but required 15 minutes to do so. Credit: Getty Images. 1962: Pic shows Clark and LINC-8 The LINC (Laboratory Instrumentation Computer) offered the first real time laboratory data processing. Designed by Wesley Clark at Lincoln Laboratories, Digital Equipment Corp. later commercialized it as the LINC-8. Credit: Computer History Museum 1971: Coloured Computed Tomography (CT) scan of a section through a whole healthy human kidney. The kidney is a bean-shaped organ located in the abdomen, of which there are two in the body. Each consists of an outer cortex (blue) and an inner medulla with pyramid- shaped units (orange/yellow). Blood enters the kidney through the renal artery (far left) and is passed into a network of capillaries in the cortex. These capillaries end in tiny glomeruli (not seen) which filter excess water and metabolic wastes from the blood into tubules, where the waste turns to urine. The urine drains through the medullary pyramids into the ureter (red) which leads to the bladder. Credit: ALFRED PASIEKA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

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1946 ENIAC, widely thought of as the first electronic digital computer, is formally unveiled. Designed to compute ballistics during the Second World War, it performs calculations in a variety of scientific fields including randomnumber studies, wind-tunnel design and weather prediction. Its first 24-hour forecast takes about 24 hours to do.

1951 Marvin Minsky, later of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), builds SNARC, the first machine to mimic a network of neurons.

1954 John Backus and his team at IBM begin developing the scientific programming language Fortran.

1956 Building on earlier experiments at the University of Manchester, UK, and elsewhere, MANIAC at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico becomes the first computer to play a full game of chess. In 1996, IBM's Deep Blue computer will defeat world chess champion Garry Kasparov.

1959 John Kendrew of the University of Cambridge, UK, uses computers to build an atomic model of myoglobin using crystallography data.


1962 Charles Molnar and Wesley Clark at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory design the Laboratory Instrument Computer (LINC) for researchers at the National Institutes of Health. It is the first lab-based computer to process data in real time.

1963 In California, the Rancho Arm becomes the first artificial robot arm to be controlled by a computer.

1966 Cyrus Levinthal at MIT designs the first program to represent and interpret protein structures.

1967 ARPANET — the predecessor of the Internet — is proposed by the US Department of Defense for research networking.

1969 Results of the first coupled ocean–atmosphere general circulation model are published by Syukuro Manabe and Kirk Bryan, paving the way for later climate simulations that become a powerful tool in research on global warming.


1971 Computing power shows its potential in medical imagery with a prototype of the first computerized tomography (CT) scanner.

1971 The Protein Data Bank is established at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York.

1972 Hewlett Packard releases the HP-35, the first hand-held scientific calculator, rendering the engineer's slide rule obsolete.

1976 At Los Alamos, Seymour Cray installs the first Cray supercomputer, which can process large amounts of data at fast speeds.


1983 Danny Hillis develops the Connection Machine, the first supercomputer to feature parallel processing. It is used for artificial intelligence and fluid-flow simulations.

1985 After receiving reports of a lack of high-end computing resources for academics, the US National Science Foundation establishes five national supercomputing centres.

1989 Tim Berners-Lee of the particle-physics laboratory CERN in Geneva develops the World Wide Web — to help physicists around the globe to collaborate on research.

1990s: INTERNET...

1990 The widely used bioinformatics program Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST) is developed, enabling quick database searches for specific sequences of amino acids or base pairs.

1996 George Woltman combines disparate databases and launches the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. It has found nine of the largest known Mersenne prime numbers (of the form 2n−1), including one that is 9,152,052 digits long.

1996 Craig Venter develops the shotgun technique, which uses computers to piece together large fragments of DNA code and hastens the sequencing of the entire human genome.

1998 The first working quantum computers based on nuclear magnetic resonance are developed.


2001 The National Virtual Observatory project gets under way in the United States, developing methods for mining huge astronomical data sets.

2001 The US National Institutes of Health launches the Biomedical Informatics Research Network (BIRN), a grid of supercomputers designed to let multiple institutions share data.

2002 The Earth Simulator supercomputer comes online in Japan, performing more than 35 trillion calculations each second in its quest to model planetary processes.

2005 The IBM Blue Gene family of computers is expanded to include Blue Brain, an effort to model neural behaviour in the neocortex — the most complex part of the brain.

2007 CERN's Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, the world's largest particle accelerator, is slated to come online. The flood of data it delivers will demand more processing power than ever before.


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Ruttimann, J. Milestones in scientific computing. Nature 440, 399–402 (2006).

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