20 April 2012

Fifty years ago, in April 1962, The University of Queensland commissioned the first-ever digital computer in Queensland – a General Electric GE225.

This technological advancement was located in UQ’s Computer Centre, which was established in 1961, providing computer services to staff, students, university departments, administration, Government organisations and private enterprise.

As the first academic to be appointed to the development of the Centre in 1960, Mr Richard Kelly was heavily involved in planning and writing specifications.

Mr Kelly said that The Computer Centre, now known as Information Technology Services, owes its origins to Professor Sidney Prentice, the Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering.

“During a sabbatical in 1957, Sid visited the Westinghouse Transformer factory in the United States, where he witnessed one of the then “new-fangled” digital computers churning out transformer designs at the rate of one every 10 minutes - a task which took human designers several weeks,” Mr Kelly said.

Upon his return, Professor Prentice lobbied the Professorial Board to set up a sub-committee to investigate the possibility of acquiring such a computer for the University.

“Unfortunately, Professor Prentice’s expertise was in Power Engineering, not Electronics,” Mr Kelly said.

“At the time, I was a recent graduate who had joined the Department as a Tutor and, by chance, had completed a thesis on Electronic Analogue Computers.

“Thinking that I would know all about computers, Sid informed me that I had been appointed Technical Adviser to the Sub-Committee, but realising my own limitations, I raced over to the Library and took out every book they had on Digital Computers - all six of them - and furiously began studying!”

Professor Prentice engaged Australia’s first ever Professor of Computing and UQ Engineering graduate, Professor John Bennett to assist him in promoting the benefits of the digital computer to UQ and the wider community, resulting in organisations such as Main Roads, Primary Industries and the CSIRO committing funding.

Ultimately, Professor Prentice was able to raise £100,000 ($200,000 AUD), including a commitment of £20,000 ($40,000 AUD) from UQ.

In April 1961, the University awarded a contract to the General Electric Co (USA) for the supply, installation and commissioning of a GE-225 computer, the first of its kind in Queensland.

Since then UQ has witnessed the remarkable advancements in technological performance from large single-user to multi-user main-frame computers, to dedicated minicomputers, personal microcomputers, portable laptops and iPads.

On Wednesday 1 August 2012, the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering (ITEE) will host a special alumni event to celebrate this milestone.

For more information, and to register your interest in attending, please contact the Faculty’s Alumni Manager, Claire Corones on +61 7 3346 7533 or c.corones@uq.edu.au.

To view a video of the rationale for the first Digital Computer at UQ in 1962.

Media: Madelene Flanagan (m.flanagan@uq.edu.au or 3365 8525)