Atanasoff Today: Celebrating the past, innovating the future

by Robyn Goldy

This year, the Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University will commemorate its 50th anniversary with a series of events throughout the year that will culminate in the fall with a multi-day symposium and reunion celebration. We invite all of our 5,000+ alumni, along with friends, faculty, staff, current students, and industry partners to join us in the festivities, which will take place on campus on September 26–28, 2019. The theme for the anniversary is “celebrating the past, innovating the future.”

John Vincent Atanasoff

And we certainly do have a proud and rich past to celebrate.  Dr. George Strawn (Ph.D. ’69 mathematics), is a member of the external advisory board for the Department of Computer Science and is also on the planning committee for the 50th anniversary celebration.  Strawn, a former professor and department chair of Computer Science, fondly remembers the department’s early days: “I started teaching in the computer science program as a graduate student in 1966 and was a charter member of the new department of computer science in 1969, the same year I received my Ph.D. Reflecting on the past fifty years of progress in our department and in computer science as a discipline, my first thought is that it’s been a great ride and I’m lucky to have been a part of it!”

Iowa State also proudly claims that the first electronic digital computer was invented, designed, and built here in 1939 by professor of mathematics and physics John Vincent Atanasoff, and his student, Clifford Berry. 

A reconstruction of the Atanasoff Berry Computer (ABC) is currently on loan at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. As part of the year-long celebration, we are planning an event at the Computer History Museum, to include a viewing of the replica ABC.  We hope alumni in the region can join us for that event—stay tuned for details. 

We are also looking to the future and are so excited to see what the next 50 years of innovation the department will bring.

Clifford Berry and the Atanasoff-Berry Computer (ABC).

John L. Gustafson with the working replica of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer.

“I’m jealous of the youngsters among us who will be around for our hundredth anniversary. I predict that the changes between 50 and 100 will be even greater than those we’ve already seen,” says Strawn. The 50th anniversary celebration in September will include lectures from current faculty as well as student poster presentations to showcase some of the innovative research currently being conducted in the field of computer science at Iowa State.

Visit the Department of Computer Science’s 50th anniversary website here to view a complete schedule of events and a timeline of the department’s history. You can also share memories of your time in the department, or what you’ve been up to since you graduated.


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