Everyone remembers the first computer they ever used. And Joyce Wheeler is no exception. But in her case the situation was a bit different. The first computer she used was one of the first computers anyone used.

 

The machine was Edsac – the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator – that ran for the first time in 1949 and was built to serve scientists at the University of Cambridge.

Joyce Wheeler was one of those scientists who, at the time, was working on her PhD under the supervision of renowned astronomer Fred Hoyle.

“My work was about the reactions inside stars,” she said. “I was particularly interested in how long main sequence stars stay on their main sequence.

“I wanted to know how long a star took to fade out,” she explained.

The inner workings of the nuclear furnace that keep stars shining is an understandably knotty problem to solve. And, she said, the maths describing that energetic process were formidable.

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