Eleanor Kolchin
Boca West Special Interest Club
Background
Eleanor Kolchin graduated from Brooklyn College in 1947 with a Bachelor's
degree in Mathematics. She was treasurer of Pi Mu Epsilon, the national
honorary mathematics society. After a short period of teaching math at the
high school level, she was hired by IBM in 1947, and eventually became the
tabulating supervisor of the computing staff at IBM's Watson Scientific
Computing Laboratory at Columbia University. The Watson Lab was one of the
first to apply business machines for scientific research. While working at
the Lab, she was able to attend classes toward a master's degree in Math
at Columbia.
Dr. Wallace Eckert, the director of the Watson Lab, was an astronomy
professor at Columbia University, and one of the first assignments he gave
Eleanor was computing the orbits of a number of asteroids. The early
computers were plugboard computers; each program required wiring a different
plugboard to be inserted into the computer. Many projects were being
developed at the Lab including Fortran, a widely used scientific computer
language, as well as the extremely accurate calculations of the phases of
the moon, which were ultimately used in our moon landings. A very new
computer built at the time was the SSEC, which occupied an entire room,
enabling us to compute with high accuracy, the orbits of the outer planets.
Prof. Louis Green of Haverford College came to the Watson Lab to do his
research in astrophysics. After Eleanor left IBM to raise a family, she
worked for Dr. Green for many years solving various differential equations
and doing Fortran programming. Many papers were published in this
time. Dr. Green was given computing time on the new powerful CDC computer at
NYU, which Eleanor used. She was subsequently hired part time by NYU when
Dr. Green retired. One of her many jobs was as a consultant to researchers
using Fortran programs. Eventually, she ended up developing web pages for
various NYU projects. She retired from NYU in 2006.
Eleanor still is using her computer skills in maintaining a website and
database for over 1,000 people as a volunteer at her Florida Country Club.