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24 August 1961
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Mighty Giant

1962 Press Releases



Financial Times: 8.12.62

Mr Sebastian de Ferranti and Professor Tom Kilburn at the Engineer's Console

Mr Sebastian de Ferranti and Professor Tom Kilburn at the Engineer's Console
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© UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Ministry of Aviation is expected to be interested in the new Ferranti Atlas computer, the most powerful in the world, the first of which was officially inaugurated to-day in Manchester University by Sir John Cockcroft.

Dr B V Bowden, principal of the Manchester College of Technology and chairman of the Ministry of Aviation's Electronic Advisory Committee is understood to be seeing the Minister on Monday.

A Ferranti Atlas has been ordered by London University. A quarter of its cost has been contributed by the British Petroleum Company, which will have an agreed amount of time on the machine for five years. part of the work done by B.P. will be planning its industrial and transport operations.

Nuclear Research

This particular computer, although not scheduled for delivery until the autumn of 1963, is already undergoing part commissioning tests in the Ferranti works. Another has been ordered by the National Institute for Nuclear research at Harwell and is due for delivery in 1964.

The Atlas costs basically £2m., but with ancillary equipment the total may rise to over £3m. It can do half a million simple operations such as additions in one second. It can take a word, that is 48 digits, out of the main ferrite core store in two millionths of a second.

Owing to the great sophistication and ingenuity of the circuitry, much of which was originated by Professor Tom Kilburn and his colleagues at Manchester University. Atlas can do very quickly what it would take several computers to do working together.

It is completely transistorised and yet consumes something like one quarter of a megawatt total power. It represents the culmination of work started in Manchester when the first commercial electronic computer ever made was designed by Professor F. C. Williams and made by Ferranti and installed in 1951. Atlas is unmatched in the world for speed and power.

Complex Studies

The unit is needed for complex mathematical operations in cosmology, meteorology, astrophysics, linguistic analysis, and so on. It will be a valuable aid in the study of molecular structure, including work on proteins and virus.

It will also interpret data from the new radio telescope to be installed at Jodrell Bank. early next year, Atlas will be linked to the Ferranti computer centre in London and to several universities.

A permanent staff of 60 operators and programmers will be based by Ferranti here and in London for taking programmes from customers, who can use it from the beginning of January. Hire cost will be about £750 an hour for exclusive use, but as Atlas can handle several programmers simultaneously the cost to a user for many types of operation will be much less.


The Times: 8.12.62

Looking in the words of Professor W. Mansfield Cooper, Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, like a hospital neurosurgical theatre, the university's £1,960,000 Atlas computer was inaugurated by Sir John Cockcroft, Master of Churchill College, Cambridge.

The culmination of four years of research, between the university and Ferranti Ltd., who have spent £2m. on its development, Atlas is hailed as the most powerful and cheapest computer system in the world. It was fitting that it should have been established in Manchester, the birth-place of the industrial revolution, said Mr Sebastian de Ferranti, managing director of the electrical firm.

Bringing its 60,000 transistors into play, Atlas can perform 20,000 arithmetical operations at a cost of 1d. It will be available to industrial and commercial users at a rate of £750 an hour from January 2. It will perform 100 times as fast as the university's present Ferranti Mercury system, which is to go to Sheffield University.

Atlas will work under the care of 60 operating staff on problems as diverse as weather forecasting and the complexities of molecular structure.


The university's French department feeding the computer with the rate at which particular words occur in French authors' works, expect to establish the chronological order of certain books and plays. Professor T. Kilburn, professor of computer engineering, is convinced that Atlas will decide authoritatively questions of authorship but he would not be drawn on whether it could settle the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy.

Two more Atlas computers are being made at Ferranti's West Gorton works, one for London University, the other for the National Institute for Research in Nuclear Science at Harwell. Meanwhile users such as the Atomic Power Construction Company in London, the universities of Edinburgh and Nottingham, Manchester College of Science and Technology, and Jodrell Bank radio telescope will set up telephone links to feed their problems into the Manchester system. Smaller industrial users will be encouraged to submit problems.

Mr de Ferranti, whose firm is spending £100,000 on a sales programme in the United States, estimates a market there for about 20 machines and perhaps 10 in Europe.


Bridgnorth: 8.12.62

A 23-years-old Bridgnorth scientist, who has spent the. past three months playing chess against a £3m. computer, is to take up a new important post at Harwell Nuclear Research Establishment.

For the past three months, former grammar school student, Mr. Alec Bell, has been at Manchester University where the world's most powerful computer, an Atlas, is housed.

He is to take up an appointment as scientific officer with the National Institute of Research into Nuclear Science who will have control of an even bigger Atlas on order for Harwell.

His work with the machine will continue.

Mr. Bell's new duties will be to compile a guide so that when the Harwell machine comes into operation universities and other outside bodies allowed the use of it will be able to easily compile programmes for it.

Alex Bell

Alex Bell
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© UKRI Science and Technology Facilities Council

During the months he has been at Manchester, Mr. Bell has been helping a Dr. Baricelli to teach the Atlas to play chess - it solves a two-move mate in half a second - and he hopes to use this program as the environment for numerical organisms to evolve and reproduce in.

Mr. Bell is also, at present, data processing the national census material of 1961 for the conurbation areas of Lancashire on the Atlas computer for the Economics Department of Manchester University.

Younger son of Mrs. A. Bell, of 42, Sydney Cottage Drive, Bridgnorth, he gained his Bachelor of Science degree at Manchester University.

When he moves to his new appointment at Harwell, his wife, the former Miss Margaret Small (the couple were married in August), hopes to take up a new teaching post in that district.

Only daughter of Mrs. H. Small of Innage Crescent, Bridgnorth, she is also a former student of Bridgnorth Grammar School and has been teaching at St. Mary's School, Hulme, Manchester.

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