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Conference to examine the progress of computing

In 1977, the faculty and students in the University at Buffalo computer science department shared one computer that took up an entire room and boasted 1 megahertz of processing speed.

Today, the department chairman, Bharat Jayaraman, has a laptop with 2.5 gigahertz of processing speed -- or 2,500 times the power of that 30-year-old machine.

This illustrates how far computers have advanced in recent decades and how far UB's computer science department has come since its founding in 1967.

"This is one of the oldest computer science departments in the country," Jayaraman said. "[Forty years] is a very big deal for computing, because the field is so young."

The UB department, which has produced 6,000 graduates over the years, is celebrating this anniversary with an academic conference later this week.

The two-day event is a chance for faculty and alumni to look back and to assess the future of the department and the field of computer science.

UB's computer science department was founded shortly after the first such program was established at Purdue University, Jayaraman said.

Over the past 40 years, as computers have shrunk in size and made major gains in processing power and speed, the program has produced scores of successful graduates, he said.

"We have graduated people who have made a big mark in the field," Jayaraman added.

One example is Robin Li, who earned a master's degree in computer science in 1994 and went on to found Baidu.com. The Chinese-language search engine is the most popular Internet search engine in China.

Faculty in the program, now the department of computer science and engineering, have made key contributions as well, Jayaraman said.

He cited Sargur Srihari, director of UB's Center of Excellence in Document Analysis and Recognition.

Srihari has developed handwriting-recognition software that is used by the U.S. Postal Service to sort millions of pieces of mail.

The UB computer science program currently has about 30 full- and part-time faculty, 450 undergraduate students and 250 graduate students.

For the anniversary conference, UB has invited back some of its most prominent alumni and former faculty, including the first chairman, Anthony Ralson.

Friday, the conference begins at 8:30 a.m. in the Center for Tomorrow on the UB North Campus and will feature graduate student research.

Events Saturday begin at 8 a.m. in the Ramada Hotel and Conference Center, 2402 N. Forest Road, Getzville. Panel discussions will examine the field's past and future.

The public is invited to attend. Visit http://aluminum.cse.buffalo.edu/40/html/index.html for details.

e-mail: swatson@buffnews.com

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