SILICON | Big data, cryptography and
bioinformatics were as unheard of as
Silicon Valley when Samuel Conte left
industry to help Purdue launch
the nation’s first computer science
department in 1962. Now, they’re research
topics for faculty and students, with
graduates landing jobs in the San Francisco
Bay area and other tech hubs.
Conte’s first challenge was establishing
computer study as a science rather than
vocational training. That achieved, the
department admitted 24 master’s and
doctoral students, awarding its first
degrees in 1963. Undergraduates soon
followed, along with new faculty and key
After multiple campus homes, the
department settled into the new Lawson
Computer Science Building in 2006, where
a lobby display pays tribute to software
engineering, security and science-of-information milestones.
“Conte’s profound vision played a vital role
in defining the discipline as we know it
today,” says Sunil Prabhakar, professor and
“More than 50 years later, our department
is at a critical juncture of growth. In
the next few years, we will expand the
department by 30 percent and increase the
number of graduates, to meet the needs
of a workplace eager for our students,” he
adds. “Unleashing the potential of big
data will be one of our greatest challenges
and ultimate achievements, as computer
science continues to transform agriculture,
industry, medicine, transportation and
entertainment.” | K.M.
First-in-nation Computer Science
Department Marks Milestones
1962: Purdue’s Department of Computer
Science is created — the first in the nation.
Samuel Conte is founding head.
1978: The Department of Computer Science
installs a VAX 11/780 computer system
running UNIX, the first at a university.
1979: Purdue professor Peter Denning
begins collaborating with six other
universities on a Computer Science
Research Network (CSNET). A
representative from Defense Advanced
Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which
had created the Advanced Research Projects
Agency Network (ARPANET) in 1969,
1981: National Science Foundation and
(DARPA) agree to establish ARPANET
nodes at Purdue University and a few other
1982: Purdue professor Douglas Comer
designs the Xinu operating system
instruction and research.
1984: As one of the early collaborators
in the ARPANET, the Computer Science
Department is assigned one of the first
Class B network IP address ranges —
128.10.XX.XX — the address range still
used by the department today.
1985: In collaboration with other
universities, Purdue establishes the
Software Engineering Research Center,
funded by the National Science Foundation.
1998: The Center for Education and
Research in Information Assurance and
Security (CERIAS) is formed at Purdue
under the direction of Eugene Spafford,
professor of computer science.
2010: Purdue creates the first National
Science Foundation Science and Technology
Center in Indiana, the Center for the
Science of Information, under the direction
of Wojciech Szpankowski, the Saul Rosen
Professor of Computer Science. 1992