Elected Foreign Associate in 1977
“For pioneering development of practical electronic computers and leadership in computer science.”
BY MARTIN CAMPBELL-KELLY
SUBMITTED BY THE NAE HOME SECRETARY
SIR MAURICE VINCENT WILKES FRS, a pioneer of British computing and professor emeritus at Cambridge University, died on November 29, 2010, at the age of 97.
Wilkes was born on June 26, 1913, in Dudley, a town in the English midlands. His father was an administrator for the estate of the Earl of Dudley, his mother a housewife. He was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in the town of Stourbridge. In his early teens he read Wireless World and built crystal sets—experience for which he was very grateful when it came to building electronic computers two decades later. He entered St. John’s College, Cambridge University, in 1931, where he read mathematics.
In 1935 he became a research student at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge University, working on the propagation of long radio waves. A turning point in his life occurred when he attended a lecture by Douglas Hartree, a computing expert and professor of mathematical physics at Manchester University. In 1937, when the university established the Mathematical Laboratory for practical computing, Wilkes leapt at the opportunity to become its manager.
On the outbreak of war, Wilkes was enlisted in the scientific war effort. He worked on radar and operations research, building up a network of contacts that would prove invaluable in the postwar period.