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Session 20 - HAD II - New Telescopes and New Tools.
Division, Oral session, Monday, June 08

[20.02] Marshal Wrubel and the Electronic Computer as an Astronomical Instrument

J. P. Mutschlecner (LANL), K. H. Olsen (GCSI, Lynnwood, WA)

In 1960, Marshal H. Wrubel, professor of astrophysics at Indiana University, published an influential review paper under the title, "The Electronic Computer as an Astronomical Instrument." This essay pointed out the enormous potential of the electronic computer as an instrument of observational and theoretical research in astronomy, illustrated programming concepts, and made specific recommendations for the increased use of computers in astronomy. He noted that, with a few scattered exceptions, computer use by the astronomical community had heretofore been "timid and sporadic." This situation was to improve dramatically in the next few years.

By the late 1950s, general-purpose, high-speed, "mainframe" computers were just emerging from the experimental, developmental stage, but few were affordable by or available to academic and research institutions not closely associated with large industrial or national defense programs. Yet by 1960 Wrubel had spent a decade actively pioneering and promoting the imaginative application of electronic computation within the astronomical community. Astronomy upper-level undergraduate and graduate students at Indiana were introduced to computing, and Ph.D. candidates who he supervised applied computer techniques to problems in theoretical astrophysics. He wrote an early textbook on programming, taught programming classes, and helped establish and direct the Research Computing Center at Indiana, later named the Wrubel Computing Center in his honor. He and his students created a variety of algorithms and subroutines and exchanged these throughout the astronomical community by distributing the Astronomical Computation News Letter. Nationally as well as internationally, Wrubel actively cooperated with other groups interested in computing applications for theoretical astrophysics, often through his position as secretary of the IAU commission on Stellar Constitution.

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