IBM 650 Magnetic Drum

Data Processing Machine applications - Press release

The following is the text of an IBM press release distributed on July 31, 1958.

Studies ranging from controlled thermonuclear fusion to give the world an almost unending supply of electric power, to developing new methods of treating eye diseases will be among the unusual applications to be processed on an electronic computer in the exhibit of the United States Atomic Energy Commission at the Atoms for Peace Conference at Geneva. The Conference, which is held under the auspices of the United Nations, will last from September 3 to 14.

The computer, an integrated data processing system of great versatility, is International Business Machines Corporation's Tape 650 Magnetic Drum Data Processing System, hub of what is in a sense a workshop showing a multitude of experiments now being conducted to harness vast new energies to serve mankind.

As the health laboratory or certain other groups of the U.S. exhibit put out their data, it is fed into the 650 for processing, studying, and analyzing.

In fusion studies the computer carries out the calculations which are necessary to effect controlled thermonuclear reactions at the extremely high temperatures of the fusion process. This reaction when achieved on a commercial scale may provide an almost unlimited source of electric power to the world. One method for inducing such a controlled reaction is called the pinch effect. It is essentially the pinching or squeezing of a gas within a tube by the magnetic force developed by a very powerful electric current passing through the gas. This compression of the gas causes an instantaneous and phenomenal rise in temperature equivalent to the temperature within the sun, thereby permitting the fusion reaction to take place.

In the medical field the IBM 650 will carry out calculations involving the analysis of various radioactive isotopes. Certain of these isotopes which emit Beta particles have many applications in medicine and physics, for example, the use of radio-strontium rays in treating the cornea of the eye.

Another task to be undertaken by the 650 at Geneva is to work on the statistical summaries of the amount of radiation present within the human body. Data for these calculations are obtained from an unusual new scintillation counter into which the entire body may be placed in order to measure the presence of radioactivity. Appropriately the application is officially called "The Wholebody Counter Statistical Summary."

Various other projects on which the computer will be kept busy include the working out of the intricate calculations involved in designing and controlling industrial reactors which are already starting to produce electric power for the economy; typical are Reactor Cell Calculations and Reactor Re-activity Calculations. Then there are Radiation Monitoring Calculations, the compiling and analyzing of radiation intensities throughout industrial areas to safeguard the health of workers; and the calculations necessary in the study of high-energy particles in nuclear physics, particularly in the design of particle accelerators, known by such tongue-twisting names as the cyclotron, the bevatron, and the huge new proton synchrotron. All in all, twelve projects will be processed on the computer.

The IBM 650 has a calculating speed of 78,000 additions or subtractions, 5,000 multiplications, or 3,700 divisions per minute, and can make over 2,000 logical selections per second. The 650's magnetic drum, storing 20,000 digits, spins at 12,500 revolutions per minute to make any data available in 2.4 milliseconds. The "Tape 650" used at the Atoms for Peace Conference incorporates two magnetic tape units with storage capacity of 9,000,000 digits on two tapes. The system will read or write information from tapes at 15, 000 characters per second.

The equipment is used in many other areas of medical and scientific research such as in the fight against cancer, leukemia, and heart diseases, in weather predictions, dam constructions, cloud seeding, and x-ray studies.