Department of 
Computer Science

Frederick P. Brooks Jr. Wins the Association for
Computing Machinery's 1999 A. M. Turing Award,
Called "The Nobel Prize of Computing"

Known For Work on Operating System/360 Software and Author of Defining Publication in Software Engineering Field, The Mythical Man-Month

Posted: 7 January 2000

Dr. Frederick P. Brooks Jr. (Photo © by Jerry Markatos)

Dr. Frederick P. Brooks, who founded the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has received the Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) 1999 A. M. Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize of Computing."

Brooks will be cited for his landmark contributions to computer architecture, operating systems and software engineering--contributions that have stood the test of time and shaped the way people think about computing, ACM said in announcing Brooks' selection.

A $25,000 prize accompanies the Turing Award, which is ACM's most prestigious technical award. It is given to an individual selected for technical contributions of lasting importance to the computer field. Financial support for the honor comes from Lucent Technologies Inc.

Brooks, a Kenan professor, will be honored in San Francisco on May 6 at ACM's annual awards ceremony. ACM is the oldest and largest international group of computer professionals and a major force in advancing the skills of information technology professionals and students.

Brooks, who coined the term "computer architecture," was project manager for the development of the IBM Corporation's System/360 family of computers and Operating System/360 software. He led the team that first achieved strict compatibility, upward and downward, in a computer family. He also was an architect of the Stretch and Harvest computers during his tenure at IBM. With Dura Sweeney, Brooks invented a Stretch interrupt system that introduced many of the features of today's interrupt systems.

"It is indeed a high honor to be associated with the distinguished computer scientists and great people who have won the Turing Award over the past three decades," Brooks said.

Dr. Edward Lazowska, chair of the award committee, said, "Fred Brooks has changed the face of computing: the way we think about computer architecture, the way we engineer software and the way we use 3D interactive computer graphics to advance other fields. Beyond these extraordinary technical contributions, Fred is a true gentleman with enormous personal integrity, whose leadership has shaped our discipline in countless ways. I'm delighted that this long overdue recognition occurred on my watch." Lazowska chairs the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington and chairs the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

Brooks' early concern for word processing led to his selection of the 8-bit byte, the decision to make the byte the addressable unit and the inclusion of a full upper- and lower-case character set. All of these concepts are now universal practice.

In 1997, Brooks wrote, with Gerrit A. Blaauw, Computer Architecture: Concepts and Evolution. The book documents and exemplifies the power of their 1960's innovation of thinking about computer design as separable domains: architecture, implementation and realization. Similarly, many of the technical innovations found in OS/360--such as the approach to I/O handling, and the method of transition between supervisor and user modes--are foundations of today's operating systems.

Even more influential, though, according to ACM, is the distillation of the successes and failures in the development of OS/360 that Brooks captured in his 1975 book, The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering. Today, 25 years, two editions, and 300,000 copies later, this book remains a defining work in the field of software engineering.

Brooks left IBM in 1965 to found the Department of Computer Science at UNC-Chapel Hill, now considered a world leader in interactive computer graphics. At UNC-Chapel Hill, his research on real-time, 3D computer graphics has propelled that field forward, driven by the goal of creating tools that enable scientists and engineers to tackle problems formerly beyond their reach. Brooks's students built the first molecular graphics system on which a new protein structure was solved. They also first proved that haptic displays augmenting visual displays can significantly improve a scientist's understanding of data.

Brooks received his undergraduate degree in physics from Duke University in 1953. He earned his master's and doctorate degrees in computer science, under Howard Aiken, at Harvard University.

The A. M. Turing Award is the latest award for Brooks. In 1994, he was the first recipient of ACM's Allen Newell Award. He won ACM's Distinguished Service Award in 1987 and the IEEE's John von Neumann Medal in 1993. In 1995, he received the Franklin Institute's Bower Award and Prize in Science, which carried a $250,000 prize. A decade earlier, he was in the first group of engineers to receive the National Medal of Technology, presented by President Ronald Reagan. In 1986, he received UNC-Chapel Hill's Thomas Jefferson Award, which goes to a person who best exemplifies the ideals and objectives of Jefferson.

For additional information, contact:
Claire L. Stone
Publications & Publicity Manager
(919) 962-1790

Anne Wilson
Association for Computing Machinery
(212) 626-0505

Photo © by Jerry Markatos

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Posted: 7 January 2000