Home Dot Obits: First Digital Computer, First Buckyball

Dot Obits: First Digital Computer, First Buckyball

Sir Maurice Wilkes has died. Wilkes led “the development of EDSAC, the first stored-program digital computer to go into service in the 1940s.”

The idea of building high-level, large-scale computer instructions from sets of small ones was his as well, giving birth to software programming. He also did work on the first computer network.

Wilkes led the Mathematical Laboratory (later the Computer Laboratory) at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom. After retiring from Cambridge he worked for Digital Equipment Corporation and taught at MIT.

Richard Smalley developed the first buckyball. A pioneering nanotechnologist,and professor at Rice University, Smalley was the first person to produce the structure, 60 carbon atoms in a perfect sphere.

“The new carbon material proved to be surprisingly strong and lightweight, and had almost magical electrical properties. The buckyball’s discovery helped fuel today’s explosion of nanotechnology research, in which scientists are racing to exploit the unique properties of myriad nanomaterials, with applications for everything from medicine to bulletproof vests.”

From buckyballs, Smalley moved to nanotubes. In 1996, he shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry. The last part of his professional life was spent experimenting with how to use nanomaterials to solve problems of resources and power.

Wilkes photo from Wikimedia Commons | buckyball from Geoff Hutchison

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