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Samarendra Kumar Mitra – the man who built India’s first computer!

22 February, 2020 20:47:29
Samarendra Kumar Mitra – the man who built India’s first computer!

With the age of computers invading our modern lives almost in every space, one Bengali scientist’s name is often forgotten to be mentioned as the one who made India’s first computer! Yes, he was not only a Bengali mathematician from Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) of Kolkata, but also the founder and first head of the Computing Machines and Electronics Division of ISI. Samarendra Kumar Mitra is almost forgotten as a pioneer in India’s scientific progress, yet it is he who designed, developed and constructed in 1953, India’s first indigenous electronic analogue computer for solving linear equations with 10 variables and related problems.

This computer was used in computation of numerical solutions of simultaneous linear equations using a modified version of Gauss–Seidel iteration. Mitra is indeed the ‘Father of Computers in India’ and his work and biography can be found in the History Museum of Computers in California. Subsequently, in 1963, the ISI started the design and development of the first second-generation indigenous digital computer of India in collaboration with Jadavpur University. This collaboration was also led by Mitra, as he was the Head of the Computing Machines and Electronics Laboratory, ISI. He designed, developed, and constructed a general purpose High Speed Electronic Digital Computer, namely ISIJU computer. Under the leadership of Mitra, the first second-generation indigenous digital computer of India was thus produced, namely the transistor-driven machine ISIJU-1, which became operational in 1964. 

From left Mitra with Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

Mitra was a keen learner and as such a self-taught scholar having wide-ranging interests in varied fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, poultry science, Sanskrit language, philosophy, religion and literature. He served on many research and development committees in independent India. 

Samarendra Kumar Mitra comes from an illustrious family. His father, Sir Rupendra Coomar Mitter, was a gold medalist in Mathematics as well as Law. Samarendra Kumar Mitra studied at the Bowbazar High School and later at Presidency College. He was awarded the Cunningham Memorial Prize in Chemistry. In later years, he was working towards his PhD in Physics under Professor Meghnad Saha but did not pursue it after his mentor’s death in 1956. He worked as a research physicist under CSIR, India.

Mitra received several accolades and awards from across the world. He was awarded the UNESCO Special Fellowship on the study of High-Speed Computing Machines in the USA and UK during 1949–50 and worked at Harvard University, Princeton and even at the Mathematical Laboratory of University of Cambridge UK. During his time at the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton, he became close to several eminent physicists and mathematicians, such as Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli and so on. He attended famous lectures of pioneers in atomic physics, Niels Bohr. Mitra is known to have spent a lot of time with Albert Einstein and held several discussions with him. What is surprising is Samarendra Kumar Mitra is hardly discussed these days in the world of computer engineers.   

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