On the trail of Steve Furber

Today after listening to a lunchtime recital in Manchester at the Martin Harris centre (sketch here) I wandered along Oxford Road unclear what to direction in which to go. As I did, I spotted a sign for Manchester University ‘Alan Turing Building’ and decided to seek it out.

I was to discover that the Alan Turing building houses the university’s School of Mathematics. In the entrance reception if you look hard, there is a small laminated card about A4 in size that explains who Alan Turing was. Perhaps they have plans for a grand unveiling of a large bronze statue in honour of him next year, his 100th year anniversary?

To say the building is impressive would be an understatement, I had hoped it was going to be the location of the School of Computing. I found this in Kilburn Building, which is situated on Oxford Road. I walked in off the street – expecting to be confronted by security – but encountered none. I then wandered freely around the building, reading the posters on the walls. I found some display cases showing a Williams tube which is claimed to be the first computer storage system, as used in the Manchester Mark I computer which ran its first program on June 21st 1948. You can read more here about this first stored program computer. The building is named after Tom Kilburn who was part of ‘The Baby’ team that designed and built this first stored program computer.

The building has the most bizarre layout, you could almost imagine you were walking around on a giant motherboard of a PC. There is a walkway that connects with an adjoining building as I traversed this ‘skyway’ stumbled on a photo of Steve Furber which listed his room number. Not knowing what lay ahead, I decided to find his room and see if he was there. Alas, he was not in his room but I met a colleague of his Dave Clark (not the Jazz musician).

Nanotech Lab







As I wandered off, I discovered some labs lit with yellow light where students in protective suits were working on nanotechnology – possibly graphene? That is microcomputers that are one molecule thick – if thick is the right word to use!

As I headed back toward Oxford Road I passed perhaps the only room that seemed to be occupied and there inside was Steve Furber, in a meeting. I sat outside for about an hour reading hoping I might have an opportunity to speak to him. Unfortunately he was busy (between tutorials) but suggested I arrange a meeting with him. Here are the questions I planned to ask him – perhaps another time? He did send me a very nice email afterwards suggesting we meet.

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