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Clark, Wesley A.
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- Clark, Wes
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Wesley Allison Clark is credited as the designer of the first personal computer and for being a pioneering architect of many other important computers characterized by their interactive nature including the first computer with a ferrite-core memory, the first all-transistorized computer, and the first computer with a million-bit memory.
Clark earned a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1947. In the course of further graduate study and research in reactor physics at the Hanford site of the Atomic Energy Commission, he became interested in the developing field of digital computers. He joined the Lincoln Laboratory at MIT in 1952 to explore this new field while he worked on a degree in electrical engineering, which he received in 1955 from MIT. At the Lincoln Laboratory, one of Clark's first projects was working on Project Whirlwind, an early vacuum tube computer prototype of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) system which monitored a series of US Air Force radars for the purpose of detecting Russian bombers flying over the North Pole.
Clark spent twelve years at MIT participating in various computer development activities as Associate Group Leader of the Digital Computer Group at Lincoln Laboratory, a member of the research staff of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and a Lecturer in Electrical Engineering. During this time, Clark led the design of two significant experimental computers: the Lincoln TX-0 (the world's first transistorized computer) and the TX-2, which introduced a graphical computer interface. Clark and his associates at MIT then built a prototype of his design for the LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer) in 1962 using modules made by the Digital Equipment Corporation.
Clark came to Washington University from MIT in 1964 when he was appointed Research Professor of Computer Science, and he brought with him many of the computer engineers who were on his team that had developed the LINC. Along with Charles Molnar at the university's Computer Systems Laboratory, Clark created the macromodule project, a set of computer building blocks that laid the foundations for asynchronous computation. From 1967-1972, Clark directed the laboratory's program in the development of macromodular computer systems and their application to problems in biomedical research. In 1967 at a Department of Defense principal investigators meeting, Clark proposed using a small computer as an interface message processor (IMP), an idea that was fundamental to the design of the first packet network and helped to launch the modern networking industry.
Clark was selected as one of only five American computer scientists who were invited to visit China for three weeks in 1972 in order to tour computer facilities and to discuss computer technology with Chinese computer science experts. This visit sparked his interest in text processing Chinese characters by computer. Following his visit to China, Clark left Washington University in 1972 to move to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he pursued a career as a consultant. Although no longer affiliated with Washington University, he continued to serve on the university's Computer Laboratories Advisory Committee, and acted as a consultant to other academic, governmental, and industrial organizations. In 1977-1978, he took part in the VLSI research program at the California Institute of Technology as the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar. Clark moved to New York City in 1981, joined the consulting group of Sutherland, Sproull, and Associates the following year, and continued working on the computer transcription of Chinese characters with support from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Clark was a National Lecturer of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1966 and a Lecturer in the Distinguished Visitor Program of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers in 1968. He served on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Use of Computers in the Life Sciences (1961-1963), the Computer Science and Engineering Board (1968-1971), and the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the Peoples Republic of China (1974-1976). He received the ACM-IEEE Eckert-Mauchly Award for Computer Architecture in 1981 and was a charter recipient of the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award for "First Personal Computer." He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1999.
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