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Local Tech Wire

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In the beginng of computing at UNC-Chapel Hill, a brochure described its first big machine as "the marvelous monster."

Today, the smallest smart phone possess far more processing power than the 63,000-ton titan that launched UNC into the computer age.

What memories – and how far computer memory has come – from kilobytes to terabytes.

William Friday, University of North Carolina president emeritus, will be back at UNC-Chapel Hill today to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the launch of computing at the university.

On March 30, 1960, Friday helped dedicate the “computation center” at UNC.

The UNC-CH Computational Center actually launched in 1959, housing a Univac 1105 computer that cost $2.45 million and weighed more than 12 tons.

As massive as the machine was, its memory was fewer than 50 kilobytes – about enough to hold one 8 ½-by-11” scanned page, according to UNC-CH news service.

Funded by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the Sperry-Rand machine was 60 feet long and utilized 7,200 vacuum tubes. A printer could produce 600 lines per minute.

“It can even make five carbon copies,” a brochure noted. ()

Thursday afternoon, Friday, current UNC-CH Chancellor Holden Thorp and others will gather to mark the center’s launch with a panel discussion about the impact of computing in education today. Larry Conrad, vice chancellor for information technology and the university’s chief information officer, will lead the panel.

Nobel Prize winner Oliver Smithies, John Q. Walker, chief technology officer at Zemph Sound Innovations, Joseph DeSimone, founder of Liquidia Technologies and a professor of chemistry at both UNC-CH and N.C. State, and Etta Pisano, director of the UNC Biomedical research Imaging Center and the Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute, will participate on the panel.

Frederick Brooks, Jr., Kenan Professor of Computer Science at UNC-CH, will give a keynote speech.

The program begins at 2 p.m. in the Nelson Mandela Auditorium at the FedEx Global Education Center

Caption: A 1960 brochure, “The Computer at Chapel Hill,” called UNC’s massive new Univac 1105 “the marvelous monster.” Image provided by University Archives, Wilson Library.