Return to Front Page About the Gazette | Publication Schedule Contents of the Current Print Edition Search the Gazette | Browse Back Issues Send Us Your News Carolina's Home Page UNC's News Site
UNC home page UNC home page UNC home UNC home UNC home UNC home
Today's date:

These photos, provided by University Archives in Wilson Library, highlight the earliest days of computing at Carolina. In 1959, the then-state-of-the-art Univac 1105 was installed in Phillips Hall. Storage was based on magnetic tape units, as shown in the photos above.

The photo above shows a vacuum tube chassis for the Univac 1105. Maintenance worker Bob Daniels (pictured at the top) repaired the chassis when necessary. The original machine room, created in 1960, took up significant space in the basement of Phillips Hall.

In the photo above, a group of people sit at the original Univac 1105 console.

By the late 1990s, computing at Carolina had been completely transformed. Above, students use computers on the main floor of the Undergraduate Library, and below, an incoming first-year student chats with staff from what was then the ATN department during the distribution of Carolina Computing Initiative laptops; both photos are from 1999.

Computers have become a vital tool for research applications across campus. Above, in a photo from 2008, Jason Sewall, a doctoral student in computer science, shows a visual simulation of shockwaves with near-linear performance scaling.


Celebrating 50 years of
computing at Carolina

On March 30, 1960, UNC President Emeritus William C. Friday presided over the dedication of Carolina’s new computation center.

The UNC Computation Center (UNCCC) began operation in 1959 with a Univac 1105 computer that was funded and used primarily by the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Manufactured by Sperry-Rand, the $2.45 million Univac 1105 was one of the most advanced and powerful computers of its time. It was also thought to be the first major computer system in North Carolina.

On March 18, Chancellor Holden Thorp, Friday and other special guests will celebrate the tremendous strides made during 50 years of computing at Carolina.

The event, to be held from 2 to 3:15 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center, is jointly sponsored by Information Technology Services, the Department of Computer Science and the School of Information and Library Science.

Frederick P. Brooks Jr., Kenan Professor of Computer Science, will give the keynote address, and Larry D. Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology and chief information officer, will moderate a panel discussion afterward about the impact and diversity of multidisciplinary uses of computing in academia today.

Featured panelists include:

* *Joseph DeSimone, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry;

* *Etta Pisano, Kenan Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, vice dean of medicine administration and director of the TraCS Institute;

* *Oliver Smithies, Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and UNC’s Nobel laureate; and

* *John Q. Walker, chair and chief technology officer of Zenph Sound Innovations, a Research Triangle-based technology company that creates software and algorithms to transform music into data.

The early days
The Univac 1105 had a memory capacity – in today’s terms – of less than 50 kilobytes, the equivalent of one scanned 8 1/2 x 11 document page. The 63,753-pound machine was so large and heavy that it required steel beams embedded in the cement of the Philips Hall basement to support it.

The 60-foot-long Univac 1105 used 7,200 vacuum tubes. Its high-speed printer had a capacity of up to 600 lines per minute, and to quote from a brochure published at the time, “It can even make five carbon copies.”

Fifty years ago, UNC system faculty members were able to use the computer on approximately 30 research projects in the fields of natural and social sciences, business, engineering, agriculture, forestry and the humanities.

In addition, the Bureau of the Census continued to use the computer several hours a day until 1964, and the next year University demand for computer time had increased to the extent that additional computation facilities and financial support were needed.

That led to the formation of the Triangle Universities Computation Center (TUCC) by Carolina, Duke and N.C. State universities, which worked together to establish the center with a central computer connected by phone lines to computers on the three campuses.

The ‘computer
revolution’ and beyond

According to the 1960 brochure “The Computer at Chapel Hill”: “Philosophers in the field have long been trying to evaluate the social, educational, industrial, intellectual, even spiritual, implications of the ‘computer revolution.’”

Twenty-four years later, University Provost Charles Morrow wrote, “The pace of technical development makes the distant future hard to discern.”

Arguably, five decades ago no one would have foretold what the “distant future” has yielded.

“In 1960, who could have predicted the personal computer and the Web, cell phones and GPS devices?” said Conrad. “Looking ahead 50 years, it seems virtually impossible to imagine what computing might look like in 2060. Will the word ‘computer’ even still be relevant and in use?”

Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil contends that we cannot simply project the level of advancement of the last 50 years into the next 50 years since the level of change accelerates as science and technology develop.

Conrad agrees. “The most I’ll try to predict is that technology will continue to advance, and that advancement will fundamentally change what we do and how we do it,” he said.

“Whatever is coming, I’m confident one thing will not change. Young adults will continue to embrace and leverage new technology while older adults will strive to keep up!”

While it is impossible to predict what the next half-century in computing will hold, the March 18 event, Celebrating 50 years of Carolina Computing, will provide a time to reflect on the past, consider the present and imagine the future of technology.

Contributing to history
Join the online community effort to gather information and memories of Carolina computing. Register at and add your personal memories, photos or department computing materials.

E-mail questions or suggestions to Judy Hallman,

Bookmark and Share

Follow UNC on Facebook


PDF of Feb. 24 Gazette

Click here to read the
February 24 issue as a pdf


* *Student enlists broad campus support for a bold vision

* *Celebrating 50 years of computing at Carolina

* *Bowen’s passion for helping the military has deepened in the past three decades

* *Bowles to step down by end of year

* *


* *





* *

(919) 962-7124 - office
(919) 962-2279 - fax

The Gazette staff is always looking for ideas for interesting feature stories. Do you have one to share?

NEXT ISSUE: March 17

Copyright 2008 - 2009 The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

UNC home Carolina home Carolina home