Forthcoming Events

Twitter Feed

BCS Nottingham & Derby Branch

3rd Monday Event

Atlas 1 - The story of the last UK built supercomputer by Tom Kirkham by Tom Kirkham

Date: Monday, 15th February 2016
Time: 19:00 (tea & coffee available from 18:30)
Location: Novotel, Bostock Lane, Long Eaton, Nottingham, NG10 4EP (map)
Price: Free! (non-members welcome)
Status: Going Ahead


Just over fifty years ago, the last UK built, and at that time the largest supercomputer in the world, the Atlas 1 was launched. When built, it was the size of a large detached house. Now the same computing capacity would fit in your pocket inside your mobile phone.

This talk starts from Atlas and describes a perspective on how scientific computing has evolved over the years. I aim to bring some props along to support the talk.

Atlas 1 delivered innovations both in terms of computing hardware but also with respect to how computing is applied in both human and multi-disciplinary terms. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire was the home of Atlas and opened the UK's (possibly worlds) first purpose-built computer laboratory to house Atlas which was one of the world's first supercomputers.

Work at the Atlas lab was not just about punch cards and paper tape. Collaboration between machine operators and visiting scientists was at its peak during that period. The facility produced the world's first computer animated films during the mid-seventies it also contributed the 3D wire-frame model shown on the navigation monitors in the landing sequence of the Ridley Scott film 'Alien'.

The talk will move on from Atlas computer and discuss some later work from the lab including early work on the development of the internet. Today the lab is home to the UKs largest scientific experiments such as the Diamond Light Source. Visualisation of scientific data is still central to the labs work alongside large scale data processing as the site also handles data from CERN.

[back to top]

About the Presenter

Tom is a Computer Scientist at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Having completed his PhD in Grid Computing in 2008 he now works in computing research. Projects Tom is involved in include research into security in the Cloud and the Internet of Things. Having originally gained a History degree from Notts Trent, Tom's interest in the history of computing is as much social as technical.

[back to top]