the history, the figures

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02:48:51 AM
June
17 2009

the history, the figures

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Pisa: Early 1950s - At a meeting of the Interprovincial Consortium of Universities (CIU), the municipal and provincial administrations of Pisa, Lucca and Livorno made available the sum of 150 million liras (over two million euros, at the current exchange rate) to the University of Pisa, to fi nance the construction of an electrosynchrotron. The studies began in February 1953 at the Institute of Physics of the University of Pisa and were quickly brought to an end: but the University of Rome, one of the project partners, made an offer of 400 million liras and transferred it to Frascati.


August 1954 - Marcello Conversi, director of the Institute of Physics, along with Giorgio Salvini and Gilberto Bernardini, researchers from the same institute, approached the Nobel prize winner Enrico Fermi at the Varenna summer school to seek advice on how best to use the funding already allocated for the synchrotron. Fermi took his pen and paper and on 11 August wrote directly to the rector Enrico Avanzi: the hypothesis "to build an electronic computer in Pisa - observes the physicist - seemed by far the best among all the others. It would be research that would benefi t all the sciences and all research in an almost inestimable way." Avanzi wrote a reply on August 26: Fermi's proposal will be given "the greatest consideration".


October 4 1954 - CIU confi rmed the University's budget: 25-30 million was to go to building a mass spectrometer. However, accepting Fermi's suggestion, 120-125 million would fi nance the design of an electronic digital computer. On October 16th Enrico Avanzi, in his capacity as President of CIU, will decide on the grant of a million lire to Professor Conversi to meet the fi rst "urgently needed" expenses for the organization of the study plans for the two projects.


January 1955 - Alfonso Caracciolo di Forino, a professor at the University of Rome, presented in Pisa to a large group of researchers from various Italian universities, the results of his investigation on the most recently constructed computers with a power comparable to ILLIAC, then situated at the American University of Illinois. A very animated discussion followed and as a result the idea of designing and implementing the fi rst electronic all Italian computer was further strengthened.


9 March 1955 - The Joint Consultative Committee (JCC) met for the fi rst time, appointed by Avanzi, the rector, with regard to the proposal of the Faculty of Engineering and Physical and Natural Sciences with the goal of "carrying out a preliminary study on the problems related to the construction of an electronic calculator". The Commission also proposed to create a center in Pisa for the study of electronic calculators, in order to promote studies in this fi eld and to design an electronic calculator.


18 April 1955 - The Academic Senate established the CSCE (Electronic Computer Study Centre): which was the fi rst of its kind in Italy. CSCE was located on the second fl oor of the Institute of Physics, of the University of Pisa: only in 1962, becoming an institute of the National Research Council (IEI: Department of Information Processing at the Italian National Research Council), did it move to via Santa Maria. A month later, the University signed an agreement with Olivetti that formally established the commitment of the company to create CEP. CSCE operated under the guidance of a governing council (with Marcello Conversi as president, and Alessandro Faedo and Ugo Tiberio as members); within this was the executive group (GE) consisting of Mario Tchou (an engineer from Olivetti), Alfonso Caracciolo, Elio Fabri, Giuseppe Cecchini and Silvano Sibani.


the small-scale machine (1955-1958) Before facing the real construction of the calculator itself, the executive group decided to verify the design criteria and the development of the technical details of CEP with a small-scale prototype: it was called, not surprisingly, the small-scale computer. At its completion the GE summoned two engineers from the Olivetti Study Center at Barbaricina to work with him: Franco Filippazzi and Remo Galletti; the study centre, in turn, strengthened its staff with the hiring of Walter Sabbadini and Giovan Battista Gerace. Gerace joined the CSCE on a fellowship but was soon to become one of the main players in the whole affair.


On 31 July 1956 the executive group presented the detailed design of the small machine and its key characteristics to the governing council: word length was 18-bit; it had a magnetic core memory of 1024 words (1K); fi xed point arithmetic, 32 machine instructions; 70 000 additions or 500 multiplications per second; photoelectric tape reader as the input device and teletype as the output.


A year later, on July 24 1957, Conversi announced the end of the construction of the prototype.


Operational for scientifi c computing from February 1958, the small machine, in fact, was the fi rst electronic digital electronic computer ever built in Italy: if CSCE needed to provide computing services to users, it offered them technical assistance but delegating to them both the programming and the execution of the code.


With the small-scale machine in operation, the real construction of the calculator itself began: wherever possible, both the design and some components were used from the prototype version, in order to save time and money and reduce potential risks. And this is always why designers prefer the technology of tubes to the emerging transistors: they will use only components designed from scratch and in future developments of the machine.


CEP (1958-1960) The Pisan electronic calculator was founded at the end of 1960. Compared to the mini machine, it had decidedly better performing characteristics: word length of 36-bit; arithmetic in fi xed point and fl oating point, single and double precision; 128 instructions and 220 pseudo-instructions; instructions of fi xed length equal to a word; 8192 words (8K) of magnetic nuclei memory; 70 000 additions or 7000 multiplications per second; entry with photoelectric reader; exit drills with tape, teleprinter and parallel printer.


The inauguration of CEP, November 13 1961, was an event of national importance. The President of the Republic Giovanni Gronchi was there, as were the rectors of several Italian universities, the major players in the Italian press were present. Only the weekly Epoca did not report the news, because "the event falls in the closing days of the layout of the various services set up during the week.”


CEP remained in operation for seven years, offering its computing services for a minimum of 2000 hours per year up to over 4000. The main users were researchers from INFN and the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Pisa, which alone occupied about one third of the time available for the computer. However in a world that was changing at the speed of light, CEP soon showed its limitations: it became barely competitive, and had to give way to the more powerful computers that continue to appear on the market. The University of Pisa itself, led by the rector Faedo, obtained the donation of a computer 7090 in 1964 from IBM that in fact led to the retirement of CEP and gave the spark of life the establishment of CNUCE (National University Center of computing).


Broken and no longer repaired, the Pisan Electronic Calculator is literally in pieces and its parts were scattered all over the place.


Today, after a painstaking reconstruction, it is on display at the Museum of Calculation Tools at the University of Pisa.

Source by CNR


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