Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fermi, Pasta, Ulam, and a mysterious lady

Mary Tsingou


Born on 14 October 1928 to a Greek family living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mary Tsingou performed the computations for the first-ever numerical experiment: the famous Fermi-Pasta-Ulam (FPU) experiment. 

Tsingou earned her BS in 1951 at the University of Wisconsin and her MS in mathematics in 1955 at the University of Michigan. In 1952, following a suggestion by her advanced differential equations professor, a woman, she applied for a position at Los Alamos National Laboratory. At the time, women were not encouraged to pursue mathematics, but the Korean War had created a shortage of young American men, so staff positions were also offered to young women. She was thus hired, along with a group of recent college graduates, to do hand calculations.
She was initially assigned to Los Alamos's T1 division (T for theoretical), which during World War II had been led by Rudolf Peierls and to which the famous spy Klaus Fuchs belonged. But she quickly moved to the T7 division, led by Nicholas Metropolis, to work on the new computer, the MANIAC I, that no one could program. She and Mary Hunt were the first programmers to start exploratory work on it. The computer was used primarily for weapons-related tasks, but from time to time and mostly during the weekend, the researchers could use it to study physics problems and even to play chess. Tsingou and John Pasta were the first ones to create graphics on the computer, when they considered a problem with an explosion and visualized it on an oscilloscope.
In addition to Pasta, she interacted with Stanislaw Ulam, but she had little contact with Enrico Fermi, who was a professor in Chicago and visited Los Alamos only for short periods. However, she knew Fermi's daughter Nella much better because Nella didn't want to stay with her parents during their visits to Los Alamos. The two young women slept in the same dormitory, while Enrico and Laura Fermi were hosted by their good friends Stan and Françoise Ulam...
Thierry Dauxois ["Fermi, Pasta, Ulam, and a mysterious lady", Physics Today, January 2008]

Για τον προπάτορα του MANIAC, τον ENIAC, και άλλη μια ελληνική παρουσία στον χώρο:
«Από τον ENIAC στα laptop και από τον Nicholas Metropolis στον Nicholas Negroponte – 60 χρόνια από την επανάσταση των κομπιούτερ», Γεωτρόπιο, 346, σελ.70-74, 2 Δεκεμβρίου 2006

The algorithm Mary Tsingou used to code the first numerical experiment. 
Note the date of the Los Alamos report, 5-20-55, at the top right of the figure.

 Courtesy of Mary Tsingou Menzel
 

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