Field of Science

That the Programmer may Return to being a Mathematician

The solution of differential equations has taken on an entirely new dimension in the 75+ years since Erwin Schrodinger proposed approaching the description of matter waves using PDEs. The solution of many differential equations can now be found numerically, using computers. Grace Hopper, who graduated with a BA in math from Vassar, a women's college, in 1928. She worked on her doctorate in math at Yale and returned to Vassar as a professor of mathematics in 1931. During WW II she joined the waves and was assigned to the team running the Mark I - an early digital computer. Her work there eventually led her to design the first compiler - a translator which turns the "natural" language of the programmer into the binary code that the computer can read. Hopper hoped that then "the programmer may return to being a mathematician." The development of widely used symbolic algebra programs such Mathematica and Maple can be traced to Grace Hopper's work. Legend has it that Grace Hopper is the one who coined the term "bug" for problems with a computer, after pulling a moth out of one of the machines.

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