The Wilson Story

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Computers in Biology - 

    I learned computer programing using Fortran (formula translation) as a lab component of my numerical analysis/statistics course while working at Hercules Powder Co. (Hercules).   At this time fortran used a two step compiler 1. Punch cards in fortran were processed checking for grammar and building an object deck or machine language program 2.  This second deck of cards was used to do the actual computations and if the logic was correct to get answers via a console type writer or punch cards.  We started our class late in the evening by working on some interesting problems, one that I remember was the Hermite polynomial expansion of the tangent.  I worked out my solution that took an hour plus of computer time and then by error printed out the wrong range variables.  There was no way that I could get another hour of computer time in a class 25+.  One of the mathematicians at worked showed me an iterative trick that allowed me to make the run in five minutes and print the right answers. It was through this class and interaction with programers at work and the university that I became somewhat proficient as a programer. 

    Everyone in biology wanted to become proficient at using the computer and the department decided to offer a summer course in computers in biology.  This was funded by the NIH training grant and we were off.  The students were bright and wanted to learn and we were able to write some simple but useful programs.  Some of these students did very well with one becoming a recognized expert in computer use in ecology.  I taught this course twice as I remember it and found it very rewarding, but this did not get my dissertation finished. This may well have been one of the first courses in the United States teaching computing to biological students. 

    I later taught biometry at Miami University using computers.  This took a lot of time and didn’t get me promoted thus, leading me to a period of years where I never touched a computer and then came the personal computer and I could return to computers.

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