When the WPI faculty voted in 1992 to rename the Electrical Engineering Department the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, it recognized the tremendous impact the computer has had on the discipline. Where once Atwater Kent Laboratories was crammed with huge generators, switches and motors, today its labs are filled with desktop computers and workstations. Computers have become indispensable tools for research and design, and important divisions of the electrical engineering profession are now devoted to the design of ever more powerful and compact computers and related hardware.
WPI's electrical engineering program has had a long association with computers. The department's first computer arrived 40 years ago, when electronic brains were still quite rare on college campuses. That first machine was an analog computer (the forerunner of today's digital computers). It looked like a cross between a telephone switchboard and a voting booth and could do everything from simple arithmetic operations to differential and integral calculus, delivering its answers on an oscilloscope or paper tape. Professor George Stannard '43, who was in charge of the device, said of the new machine, "its possibilities are practically limitless."
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