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Wilkes, Maurice Vincent

computer delay storage edsac

(1913– ) British mathematician and computer scientist: designed the first delay storage computer.

Wilkes was educated at Cambridge, subsequently taking positions there as lecturer and director of the Mathematical Laboratory, and head of the Computer Laboratory.

After wartime work on radar and operational research, Wilkes worked on the early development of computers, leading the team which built EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator), the first machine to use delay lines to store information. The delay lines were mercury-filled tubes (1.5 m long) with piezoelectric crystals at either end; incoming signals generated a pressure pulse which was transmitted through the mercury to the second crystal, where it was converted back into an electrical impulse. Several such devices and suitable amplification allowed an electrical signal to be stored indefinitely, an essential requirement of a computer ‘memory’. EDSAC ran its first program in 1949 and was a milestone in the development of computers. EDSAC II, in service from 1957, included among its improvements the use of magnetic storage in place of delay lines. Wilkes continued to play a leading role in computer development.

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