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Large-scale scientific computing

For many years, the theoretical physicists in the department relied heavily on mainframe computers. The University supplied these until 1991. The history of what was called "academic computing," to distinguish it from computing for other sectors of the University such as the Office of the Registrar, is roughly as follows:

The University had a link to the Toronto General Electric Computer. Dave Moule reports that data was put on punched tape at Brock and then submitted by telephone to Toronto.

Summer 1968/Spring 1970:
Brock obtained remote access to the IBM 360 at the University of Waterloo. Dave Moule (Chemistry) reports that one had to submit cards at the lower campus, wait for the mailman to take them to the upper campus and then wait for the mailman to return the results, a four-day process. He remembers an honors student, John Brema, coming into his office one day and holding a large bunch of punched cards that had been dropped in a puddle by the mailman. Shortly thereafter, John Brema altered the direction of his project. Dave also remembers Richard Judge bicycling up and down the hill with his punched cards six times in one day to get six cycles of the computer.

March 1970/Spring 1978, B5500:
There was a great deal of controversy concerning the choice of the first Burroughs (B5500) in 1970 since the scientists felt that it would not be a good scientific computer. In particular Dave Lepard (Physics) and Dave Moule, who used computers heavily in their research, and were on a computation committee, were opposed to the purchase of the B5500. Dave Moule reports that Ray Skilton, from London, England was hired to run the Computational Center by John R. Mayer (then Dean of Arts and Science) without any consultation with the Science computer users. Since Ray Skilton had had some bad experiences with IBM in his previous job, he insisted on the purchase of a different computing system. The Burroughs 5500 was the result.

Spring 1978/May 1984, B6700:
During the entire period from 1970 to 1984, data was submitted by punched cards.

May 1984/December 1991, B7900:
During this period, faculty members also made use of the University of Toronto CRAY Computer. A VAX 11-780 was also set up and used for scientific computing and e-mail (Data Pac at UBC, the EAN System.)

B.Mitrovic purchased a Sun Model 4/40M Sparc Workstation, the first such workstation in Physics, and the first Unix machine at Brock.

It was not until 1991 that academic computing formally moved away from the Burroughs B7900 (then Unisys) Computers to Silicon Graphics machines (, and scientific computing at Brock moved into the twentieth century. (Dates of mainframe computers courtesy of Gord Kennedy - Brock Computer Center.) In May 1991, John Black acquired a Silicon Graphics 4D/30 Personal Iris. In June 1992, Ramesh Shukla acquired a Silicon Graphics Iris Indigo.

Systems/Networking Split. The responsibility for scientific computing was given to a UNIX Support Group at the instigation of Ed Sternin (Physics). (Former physics students James Whybra and Brad Saxton have worked in this group.)

next up previous
Next: Bibliography Up: Computers at Brock Previous: Laboratory Computers

Web edition by: Ed Sternin <>
Last revised: 2001-10-23