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.
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:
DeSimone, Chancellor’s Eminent Professor of Chemistry;
Pisano, Kenan Professor of Radiology and Biomedical Engineering, vice dean of
medicine administration and director of the TraCS Institute;
Smithies, Weatherspoon Eminent Distinguished Professor of Pathology and
Laboratory Medicine and UNC’s Nobel laureate; and
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
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.
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
Twenty-four years later, University Provost Charles Morrow
wrote, “The pace of technical development makes the distant future hard to
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
Contributing to history
Join the online community effort to gather information and
memories of Carolina computing. Register at www.ibiblio.org/comphist and add
your personal memories, photos or department computing materials.
E-mail questions or suggestions to Judy Hallman, firstname.lastname@example.org.