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The life and times of Admiral Grace Hopper

Speed read
  • Pioneer in computer science would be 110 this month
  • Hopper was integral to the development of UNIVAC1 and COBOL
  • Posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016

In the first week of December, many in the US remember the men and women in the armed services, and recognize our irrevocable debt. At the Science Node, this month we recall Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. One of the finest minds the US military has ever produced, Hopper would be 110 this month.

Courtesy Rebecca Hill; Storagepipe.

Hopper's influence is often forgotten, but her mark on our lives today is unmistakable. She was integral to the development of the computers our modern society depends upon. Her mathematical knowledge helped lead a team that would crack a mathematical equation and light the atomic bomb.

Though many do not recall her name, we benefit from her intellect each and every day.

Hopper was born in New York City on December 09, 1906. At the age of 28, Hopper earned a PhD in mathematics from Yale University. In 1943, she enlisted in the Navy, graduated first in her class, and was subsequently assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project, where she helped work on Mark I at Harvard.

Hopper continued to help with the development of Mark II and UNIVAC I, the first computer produced for commercial use. During this time Hopper helped create one of the most important software systems: A-0.

This was the first compiler developed for an electronic computer, and helped to transform complex source code into binary code. Hopper was also instrumental in the creation of COBOL, the most commonly used business computing language.

Without Hopper’s work in computer language, many industries today would not exist.

Hopper retired from the Navy at age 79 – after being called to return twice – with a total of eight military awards. She has an Eavan Boland poem, a guided-missile destroyer (The USS Hopper), and a supercomputer at the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) named after her. Few in history share these distinctions.

In an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, Hopper performed her famous nanosecond demonstration: She holds a telephone cable cut to 11.8 inches to show the distance electricity travels in a nanosecond.

Hopper passed away in 1992, but she is honored annually at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and a military academy building named after her, Hopper Hall, is set to be completed in 2019.

This is a season of remembrance, and on this Pearl Harbor Day, we remember the life and work of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper.

There's much more to her life. Read more about Admiral Grace Hopper at the Storagepipe blog.

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