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A Computing Project that has been running for 50 years

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Part of the TCSS Symposium

Often when people think about Computer Science they will imagine that everything is very new and constantly changing. Well in some sense one of the key features of the subject is that rapid change, but it can also come as a surprise to find that there can be projects that have been successful enough that they last for a seriously long time and there is still more to do. The one I know about is called “Reduce” and is a system that performs algebra – in the sense that it does symbolic integration and differentiation and the other sorts of mathematical things that are part of what every scientist needs to do every day. It was started by Tony Hearn, whose PhD was in Theoretical Physics here at Trinity. Onwards from that he decided that some of the tedious calculations associated with Feynman Diagrams he was interested in might be done better by computer than by hand. The program he started expanded and became a general purpose symbolic algebra system and gradually others join in the work of developing, maintaining and distributing it. I find it is now rather over 40 years ago that I first got involved – and computers have changed a lot over the intervening years. Around a decade ago Hearn released Reduce so all its sources are now freely available to anybody, and a collection of us support it via its web-site at sourceforge. As well as being old Reduce is now quite sizable and the sourceforge site currently hosts the roughly 2.5 million of lines of source code involved. I will talk about some of the joys and challenges working with something that has so much history, that has contributions from pretty well all around the world and that is large enough that no one individual can understand it all. It you end up as a research Computer Scientist you may, if incautious, eventually find yourself faced with the same sorts of challenge.

This talk is part of the Trinity College Science Society (TCSS) series.

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