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ETHistory 1855-2005 | Living memory | Departments | D-INFK | Research |

Research

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The Institute for Applied Mathematics, founded in 1948, was concerned with the introduction of programmable computing machines in Switzerland. The ultimate aim of the group led by professor Eduard Stiefel was the construction of an own computer. The ERMETH (electronic calculating machine of the ETH) was built at the institute in 1955-1957 and was working to everybody's satisfaction. The knowledge necessary for such a project was gathered during several study trips to the USA and Great Britain as well as gained by operating the rented Zuse Z4 computer.

The programming language used was Algol, then still implemented with German commands. Heinz Rutishauser and lateron Niklaus Wirth were further developing Algol. During a research stay in Stanford, Wirth enhanced the language into Algol-W. Disappointed of and unsatisfied with the cumbersome Algol-Commission, he created his own programming language Pascal, released for the first time in 1969. It was developed mainly for education purposes at universities and was designed accordingly: well-defined structures, simple and concise syntax. Despite the predominance of Fortran and Cobol, Pascal also became widely used in commercial businesses in the 1980s.

In the meantime, the Group for Computer Science, established in 1968, evolved into the Institute for Computer Science. The three professors Heinz Rutishauser, Peter Läuchli and Niklaus Wirth were soon joined by Carl August Zehnder (1970) and Jürg Nievergelt (1975). Each of them continued teaching in their respective division, but they met regularly for discussions. Beside the development of programming languages a second point of interest emerged: the interactivity of computer systems. The e-learning hype of today was making its first steps. Thales, a system for computer aided instruction, was developed in the late 1970s and successfully used. Closely connected to this area of research were questions regarding the man-machine interface.

In 1980 Lilith was presented, a personal computer developed under the guidance of Niklaus Wirth, which used a mouse as an additional input device and had a high resolution graphical display. Many insights gained by earlier research projects (for example the design of user dialogs) were taken into account. On the other hand, Lilith also strongly influenced the research activities of the following years (as for example the database management system Lidas or the information retrieval system Caliban) and can be seen as the nucleus of the computer science research at ETH during the 1980s. In spite of the new concept of a personal computer, a commercial success did not set in - which was not the primary goal, however; it has to be seen in a line of research projects focussing on the application in the educative field.

With the formation of the Division of Computer Science (IIIC) in 1981, a lot of the financial, but more importantly of the personal ressources were absorbed by educative, administrative and supervising tasks. Not surprisingly then, the research activities decreased during the 1980s. Between 1986 and 1988 Jürg Gutknecht and Niklaus Wirth developed Oberon, an operating system as well as an object-oriented programming language. It subsequently became the standard language for programming courses at the ETH and used as such until it was superseded by Eiffel in 2001.

With the fast growth of the institute and lateron the department, the research activities expanded more and more. A characteristic of the research policy of the late 1980s was that - similar to other departments - cooperation with external partners increased and new finances had to be sought for in the industry.

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© 2005 ETH Zurich | Credits | July 26, 2005 | !!! This document is stored in the ETH Web archive and is no longer maintained !!!