The centralization of scientific computation in Britain, 1925-1955
This study examines the organization of scientific computation in Britain over the period 1925-1955. At the beginning of the twentieth century most scientific computation was performed by individuals using logarithm tables and slide rules. By the late 1920s desk calculators and accounting machines had become common computing tools. This thesis looks at the adoption of mechanized computing methods by scientists and traces the centralization of computing effort which subsequently took place. Chapter 1 identifies nine criteria which are used to analyse the individual computing centres discussed in the thesis, and form a basis for the study. Chapter 1 also looks at scientific computation at the beginning of the twentieth century and gives relevant background information for the remainder of the thesis. The bulk of the thesis, chapters 2 to 6, describe the computing centres which emerged during 1925-1955. The description begins by looking at L.J. Comrie's work at the Nautical Almanac Office in the late 1920s and goes on to consider the Scientific Computing Service, the Cambridge Mathematical Laboratory, the Admiralty Cotnputing Service and the NPL Mathematics Division. The NPL Mathematics Division is of particular importance as it was set up, in 1945, to act as a national computing centre and represents the pinnacle of centralized computing in Britain. Similar events in the United States and Europe are described in chapter 7 and are compared and contrasted with centralized computation in Britain. The Unesco International Computation Centre is also described in chapter 7 and some conclusions about the way in which computation in Britain was centralized are given.