FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – It is not a computer or a calculator in the modern sense, but a mathematical machine known as the differential analyzer (DA) does help students understand and solve certain types of mathematical equations known as differential equations.
Marshall University’s differential analyzer model was unveiled during a public demonstration Saturday, May 2 at the Francis-Booth Experimental Theatre on the Huntington campus.
Marshall’s model, nicknamed Art, is one of only a handful of DAs in the country and is the only one available for public inspection, according to Dr. Bonita Lawrence, a professor with Marshall’s Department of Math.
“When I saw the static display of the Manchester Differential Analyzer at the London Science Museum, I stood and looked through the glass and wondered where I could see one of these machines in action and what an exciting experience it would be for our students to study this early technology,” Lawrence said. “When I discovered that the only working machine in the U.S. was in a private home I thought, ‘perhaps we should build our own!’ ”
Research on using mechanical machines to figure differential equations started as early as the mid 1800’s, but the first practical differential analyzer was built in the United States in the 1930’s at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A few other machines have been constructed over the years at military bases and universities.
The development of high-tech calculators and digital computers has nearly rendered the DA obsolete, although Lawrence says there is still an advantage to using it for instruction.
“There is a wonderful quote from Dr. Vannevar Bush (the first to build such a machine at M.I.T.), ‘Experience is necessary, of course, in order to use the device effectively. This is actually one of the most attractive aspects of the machine; one acquires an entirely new appreciation of the innate nature of a differential equation as that experience is gained,’ ” Lawrence said. “Although his purpose for building the machine was to find solutions for physical models of interest to him at the time, Dr. Bush also could see the educational value of the wonderful visual interpretation of a differential equation (an equation involving rates of change) that the machine offers.”
Work on the four-integrator differential analyzer began in 2007 for Lawrence and her team of students after they had successfully built a smaller two-integrator machine. Team members include Richard Merritt, Anthony Justice, Aaron Bevins, George Chappel, William Morrison, Stacy Scudder, Saeed Keshavarzian, Rebecca Klug, Tom Cuchta, John Fishman, Lin Yuan, Tue Ly, Michael Lake, Devon Tivener and Kelsey Herholdt.
Marshall University’s differential analyzer is constructed of Meccano, which is material used for working models and mechanical devices.
For more information contact Lawrence at 304-696-3040 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.