Saturday, October 25, 2014

William Higinbotham and Tennis for Two

Tennis for Two played on an Oscilloscope
On October 25, 1910, US-american physicist William "Willy" A. Higinbotham was born. A member of the Manhattan Project, he later became a leader in the nonproliferation movement of nuclear weapons. Moreover, he is also known for his development of 'Tennis for Two', the first interactive analog computer game and one of the first electronic games to use a graphical display.

William Alfred Higinbotham was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up in Caledonia, New York. His father was a minister in the Presbyterian Church. He earned his undergraduate degree from Williams College in 1932 and continued his studies at Cornell University. He worked on the radar system at MIT from 1941 to 1943.

During World War II, he worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and headed the lab's electronics group in the later years of the war, where his team developed electronics for the first nuclear bomb. His team created the bomb's ignition mechanism as well as measuring instruments for the device. Higinbotham also created the radar display for the experimental B-28 bomber. Following his experience with nuclear weapons, Higinbotham helped found the nuclear nonproliferation group Federation of American Scientists, serving as its first chairman and executive secretary. From 1974 until his death in 1994, Higinbotham served as the technical editor of the Journal of Nuclear Materials Management.

The History of video games dates back to the time directly after World War 2. In 1947 Higinbotham took a position at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he worked until his retirement in 1984. In 1958, Higinbotham created Tennis for Two to cure the boredom of visitors to Brookhaven National Laboratory. He learned that one of Brookhaven's computers could calculate ballistic missile trajectories and he used this ability to form the game's foundation. The game was created on a Donner Model 30 analog computer. The game uses an oscilloscope as the graphical display to display the path of a simulated ball on a tennis court. The designed circuit displayed the path of the ball and reversed its path when it hit the ground. The circuit also sensed if the ball hit the net and simulated velocity with drag. Users could interact with the ball using an analog aluminum controller to click a button to hit the ball and use a knob to control the angle. Hitting the ball also emitted a sound. The device was designed in about two hours and was assembled within three weeks with the help of Robert V. Dvorak.

In fact, when the game was first shown on October 18, 1958, hundreds of visitors lined up to play the new game during its debut. It was such a hit that Higinbotham created an expanded version for the 1959 exposition; this version allowed the gravity level to be changed so players could simulate tennis on Jupiter and the Moon. Higinbotham never patented Tennis for Two, though he obtained over 20 other patents during his career. Largely forgotten for years, critics began to recognize Tennis for Two's significance to the history of video games in the 1980s. Prior to Tennis for Two, there were few computer-based games. NIM and Chess were developed in 1951, followed by OXO or Noughts and Crosses in 1952. However, those games did not display motion or allow dual players to control the action.[3]

Higinbotham remained little interested in video games, preferring to be remembered for his work in nuclear nonproliferation.

At yovisto, you can see the original version of Tennis for Two.

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    Friday, October 24, 2014

    Charles Joseph Minard and the Art of Infographics

    Charles Joseph Minard (1781-1870)
    On October 24, 1870, French civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard passed away. He is best noted for his ground breaking inventions in the field of information graphics.

    Charles Joseph Minard was born on March 27, 1781, in Dijon, France, as the son of Pierre Etienne Minard, a clerk of the court and an officer of the secondary school, and Benign Lame lady. He was baptized at Saint Michel on the day of his birth. At age four Minard learned to read and to write, and when he was six his father enrolled him an elementary course in anatomy. He completed his fourth year of study at the secondary school at Dijon early, and then applied himself to studying Latin, literature, and physical and math sciences. At age 15, he was admitted to the prestigious École Polytechnique, where among his professors among others Lagrange and Fourier made a profound impression on him [1]. He left there in order to study civil engineering at École nationale des ponts et chaussées (the School of Bridges and Roads).

    In September 1810 he was sent by the government to Anvers and then almost immediately to the port of Flessingue. There, he solved a critical problem with a cofferdam that was leaking water faster than it could be removed. He solved the problem by using pumps driven by a steam engine, only the third time this solution had been applied to a project.

    He worked for many years as a civil engineer on the construction of dams, canals and bridge projects throughout Europe. On November 1, 1830, he was named superintendent of the School of Bridges and Roads, where he continued to serve through 1836. While there he was awarded the cross of the Legion of Honor. He then became inspector of the Corps of Bridges until he retired in 1851, after which he dedicated himself to private research.

    Charles Minard's map of Napoleon's disastrous Russian campaign of 1812.
    Minard was a pioneer of the use of graphics in engineering and statistics. He first began to publish cartes figuratives (figurative maps) during the mid-1840s, when he was nearly sixty-five years old. Most of his early maps dealt with flows of goods and passengers along railroad, river and oceangoing routes of commerce. Minard's maps became renowned around France not so much for their statistical or cartographic merits, but for the style he used in visualizing the numerical and relational aspects of flows.[2]

    He is most well known for his famous cartographic depiction of numerical data on a map of of Napoleon's disastrous losses suffered during the Russian campaign of 1812 (Carte figurative des pertes successives en hommes de l'Armée Française dans la campagne de Russie 1812-1813). The illustration is perhaps the single best-known statistical graphic of the nineteenth century and depicts Napoleon's army departing the Polish-Russian border. A thick band illustrates the size of his army at specific geographic points during their advance and retreat. It displays six types of data in two dimensions: the number of Napoleon's troops; the distance traveled; temperature; latitude and longitude; direction of travel; and location relative to specific dates.[2,3] This type of band graph for illustration of flows was later named Sankey diagram.

    At yovisto you can learn more about the visualization of statistical data in the famous TED-talk of Prof. Hans Rosling on 'Let my dataset change your mindset'.

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    If you like the daily blog posts of yovisto about the history of science, please support us by clicking on the amazon links and making your next amazon purchase via our offered links. Nevertheless, please don't forget to support your local (real world) bookstore at the corner of the street!

    Thursday, October 23, 2014

    Felix Bloch and the Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Method

    Felix Bloch
    (1905 – 1983)
    Image: Stanford University / Courtesy Stanford News Service
    On October 23, 1905, Swiss-born American physicist Felix Bloch was born. He is best known for his investigations into nuclear induction and nuclear magnetic resonance, which are the underlying principles of MRI. He was awarded the 1952 Nobel Prize in Physics for developing the nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) method of measuring the magnetic field of atomic nuclei.

    Felix Bloch was educated at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule in Zurich, starting out in engineering. Later on, he increased his interest in physics and attended the lectures of Peter Debye and Hermann Weyl at ETH Zürich and Erwin Schrödinger at the University of Zurich.

    One of his fellow students was also John von Neumann. Bloch graduated in 1927 and continued his studies at the University of Leipzig. There, he met and studied with Werner Heisenberg, he received his Ph.D. in 1928. His doctoral thesis established the quantum theory of solids, using Bloch waves to describe the electrons.

    Bloch remained in Europe in the following period. He studied with Wolfgang Pauli in Zürich, Niels Bohr in Copenhagen and Enrico Fermi in Rome. He was then appointed privatdozent in Leipzig and had to leave Germany due to the rise of the Nazi party. Bloch continued his career at Stanford University and later Berkeley. He became a citizen of the United States and worked on nuclear power at Los Alamos National Laboratory during World War II before resigning to join the radar project at Harvard University. Felix Bloch focused on his research on nuclear magnetic resonance and nuclear induction. Nuclear magnetic resonance was first described and measured in molecular beams by Isidor Rabi around 1938. In 1944, Rabi was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for this work on the topic. About two years later, Felix Bloch and Edward Mills Purcell expanded the technique for use on liquids and solids, for which they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1952. The three scientists, Rabi, Bloch, and Purcell observed that magnetic nuclei could absorb RF energy when placed in a magnetic field and when the RF was of a frequency specific to the identity of the nuclei. When this absorption occurs, the nucleus is described in resonance. Different atomic nuclei within a molecule resonate at different frequencies for the same magnetic field strength. The observation of such magnetic resonance frequencies of the nuclei present in a molecule allows any trained user to discover essential chemical and structural information about the molecule. The development of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance as a technique in analytical chemistry and biochemistry parallels the development of electromagnetic technology and advanced electronics and their introduction into civilian use.

    At yovisto, you may be interested in a video lecture on MRI-Driven Turbulence - MRI-driven Turbulence with Resistivity by Professor Takayoshi Sano at Princeton.

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