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John Vincent Atanasoff
John Atanasov.gif
Atanasoff, in the 1990s.
Born (1903-10-04)October 4, 1903
Died June 15, 1995(1995-06-15) (aged 91)
Citizenship American
Known for Atanasoff–Berry Computer
Awards Order of Saints Cyril and Methodius, First Class
Scientific career
Fields Physics
Doctoral advisor J. H. V. Vleck

John Vincent Atanasoff (October 4, 1903 – June 15, 1995) was an American physicist and inventor, best known for being credited with inventing the first electronic digital computer.

Atanasoff invented the first electronic digital computer in the 1930s at Iowa State College. Challenges to his claim were resolved in 1973 when the Honeywell v. Sperry Rand lawsuit ruled that Atanasoff was the inventor of the computer. His special-purpose machine has come to be called the Atanasoff–Berry Computer.

Computer development

Atanasoff-Berry Computer
1997 replica of the Atanasoff–Berry Computer at Durham Center, Iowa State University

Partly due to the drudgery of using the mechanical Monroe calculator, which was the best tool available to him while he was writing his doctoral thesis, Atanasoff began to search for faster methods of computation. At Iowa State, Atanasoff researched the use of slaved Monroe calculators and IBM tabulators for scientific problems. In 1936 he invented an analog calculator for analyzing surface geometry. The fine mechanical tolerance required for good accuracy pushed him to consider digital solutions.

With a grant of $650 received in September 1939 and the assistance of his graduate student Clifford Berry, the Atanasoff–Berry Computer (ABC) was prototyped by November of that year. According to Atanasoff, several operative principles of the ABC were conceived by him during the winter of 1938 after a drive to Rock Island, Illinois.

The key ideas employed in the ABC included binary math and Boolean logic to solve up to 29 simultaneous linear equations. The ABC had no central processing unit (CPU), but was designed as an electronic device using vacuum tubes for digital computation. It also had regenerative capacitor memory that operated by a process similar to that used today in DRAM memory.

Named after Atanasoff

  • Atanasoff Nunatak (a peak) on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica
  • The asteroid (3546) Atanasoff, discovered by the Rozhen Observatory
  • Atanasoff Hall, a computer science building on the Iowa State campus
  • Iowa State's implementation of MIT's Project Athena ("Project Vincent", after Atanasoff's middle name)
  • The John Atanasoff Award, established by Georgi Parvanov in 2003 and bestowed annually by the President of Bulgaria to a young Bulgarian for achievements in the field of computer and information technologies and the information society of Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Technical College in the Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, a branch of the Technical University of Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Bulgarian national tournament in informatics and information technologies, held in the city of Shumen annually since 2001
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Electronics in the city of Stara Zagora, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Electronics in Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Chitalishte (community cultural centre), Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Chitalishte, Boyadzhik Village, Bulgaria (the birthplace of Atanasoff’s father)
  • Prof. John Atanasoff 4th Primary School, Sofia
  • The John Atanasoff Private High School, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Professional Technical High School, Kyustendil, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff Bulgarian Language School, Chicago, Illinois,
  • The John Atanasoff Professional High School of Economic Informatics, Targovishte, Bulgaria
  • The John Atanasoff University Student Computer Club, Plovdiv University, Bulgaria
  • John Atanasoff Street, Yambol, Bulgaria
  • John Atanasoff Street, Sofia
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