Birth READ

CNUCE headoffice, 36 Santa Maria street, Pisa

In 1963 Professor Alessandro Faedo, at that time Rector of the University of Pisa made an institutional trip to the United States at the suggestion of his friend Carlo Santacroce, a fellow student at the Scuola Normale Superiore and at that time Vice President of IBM Italy. The purpose of Santacroce was to put Faedo in contact with the world of electronic computing, which in those years was being developed above all in North America. The aim was to convince him of the importance of establishing an Italian research and innovation center regarding this research area.

In the USA, Faedo had the opportunity to meet the Vice President of IBM Eugenio Fubini (son of the famous mathematician Guido Fubini, whom Faedo had met in Rome in 1937), during a visit to the IBM plant in Poughkeepsie. This was where the IBM 7090 was assembled, at that time the largest electronic processor of the second generation .

On that occasion, Faedo noted that many of the most important American universities were on the list of IBM technology buyers, but there were no European universities. So Faedo convinced Fubini to donate some 7090s, soon to become obsolete due to the arrival on the market of the first integrated circuits, to the old universities across the ocean. IBM agreed to make three computers available to three European universities (London due to its ancient tradition, Copenhagen for northern Europe, and one in Italy for southern Europe) as many 7090. This was in order to increase the development of computing structures to supplement university research in the sectors that would most benefit from electronic data processing.

Pisa was a city with a solid scientific tradition well promoted also by the intelligent political activity of Faedo, and home to the first Italian electronic calculator ever assembled, the CEP. In this way it became the candidate of the Italian Ministry of Education to house the 7090. To host it, in 1964, the CNUCE (National University Center for Electronic Computing) was founded. The following year, on July 5, 1965, IBM and the University of Pisa signed an agreement for the free use for five years of the computer, which was solemnly inaugurated on November 13 in the presence of the President of the Republic, Giuseppe Saragat.

The Center, with Director Prof. Faedo, was managed by a Steering Committee made up of a President (Director of the Center), a Secretary (Prof. Guido Torrigiani) and, jointly, representatives of the University of Pisa and of IBM.

Research READ

External view of the CNUCE computers room

In the first ten years of activity, that is until 1974, year of transition from the University to the CNR, the CNUCE. consolidated its “double soul”. This was that of a “service”, offered to the multitude of researchers both from the University of Pisa and other Italian universities (management of machines and operating systems, assistance and advice on programs, teaching, etc.), and “research”, offering a technologically advanced calculation service and advancing studies and discoveries in this important sector.

In parallel with these two activities the CNUCE developed further lines of research that were extremely innovative for those times. One was humanistic literary in nature(computational linguistics, Prof. Antonio Zampolli) and the other was electronic musicology (Maestro Pietro Grossi, in collaboration with the Chair of Phonology of the Music Conservatory “L. Cherubini” in Florence).

In 1974 the institute passed under the management of the CNR, abandoning the acronym, but keeping the name CNUCE to highlight its link with the past. Prof. Guido Torrigiani was appointed Director of the Institute.

As part of the CNR, research activities became increasingly important, reaching significant goals both nationally and internationally.

In particular we can consider the RPCNET, STELLA and OSIRIDE projects, carried out within the Computer Networks Group (Luciano Lenzini), examples of networks developed by CNUCE in collaboration with other national and international partners. These studies created the conditions that enabled CNUCE, on April 30, 1986, to connect Italy to the Internet.

Another important line of research was that relating to space activities (Stefano Trumpy), concerning satellite flight dynamics and the development of software for the management of space missions in collaboration with the Italian (ASI) and European (ESA) space agencies. Of particular importance was also the use of programs for the forecast of the fall of particularly dangerous space objects, such as satellites and other debris in orbit, put to the service of the Italian Civil Protection department.

We should not forget also a whole range of other activities. These include materials mechanics and structural engineering, database access systems, in particular those for the management of library catalogs, activities in the field of interactive systems and human interfaces, the processing of images with particular relevance to territorial information systems, activities on vector calculus and on massive parallelism architectures, models and methods for software systems, and many more.

In 1978 the CNUCE sector that was involved in linguistic research split off, becoming first a Laboratory and then, in 1980, an independent CNR institute (ILC, Institute of Computational Linguistics).

Computers READ

IBM 7090 scientific computer

The first initial equipment (IBM 7090 with IBSYS operating system, transistor electronics, ferrite core memories) was joined and gradually replaced by other modern computer hardware for basic calculation and smaller but specialized computers for specific project activities. These included an IBM 1800 for the processing of the Institute of Physics, of the Medical Clinic of the University of Pisa and for research into the field of music, an IBM 1130 computer used mainly by researchers and professors of the Faculty of Engineering with the first links in remote mode via telephone lines, an IBM 1401 system, subsequently replaced with an IBM 360/30, for linguistic processing, etc.).

For high-powered computers, a fundamental choice was to focus, rather than on pure computing power, on the extreme flexibility given by conversational and interactive systems (time-sharing, multiprogramming and virtual memories). Here, instead of producing their programs encoded on punched cards and carried out one at a time in a strictly sequential (“batch”) way, users were connected directly, simultaneously and in real time to the computer through interactive terminals, local or remote on telephone lines, from which they could send the programs and get the results without having to physically move from their places of work.

On December 23, 1970, the agreement between IBM and the University of Pisa was renewed, supporting the IBM 7090 system (later replaced with an IBM 370/155 system with OS/MVT operating system and subsequently by an IBM 370/158 system with OS/VS2) with a new and more powerful processor. This was the IBM 360/67 with the CP/67-CMS operating system, a “third generation” processor, which made extensive use of SLT (Solid Logic Technology) integrated electronic circuits instead of transistors and solid state memories. In 1975 this was replaced by an IBM 370/168 with a VM/370 operating system, which maintained and improved the functionality of the previous system (virtual memories, interactivity, etc.)

The years from 1975 to 2000 saw the CNUCE continue in its strategic choice of focusing on the flexibility and interactivity of the machines rather than extreme processing powers and in this perspective we had variations in the group of computers: IBM 3033-N, 3081-D, 3081-K, 3090/180-VF, 9121 / 440.

This, however, did not neglect other particular areas of mathematical, chemical and engineering research, and which used new high-power machines thanks to the highly parallel systems that had emerged (1991 nCUBE2, a Parallel Calculation group headed by Domenico Laforenza).


In 1997 the CNUCE sector, which dealt specifically with networking infrastructures and research in this field, split, creating an independent CNR institute (IAT Institute for Telematic Applications), merging with the Institute of Computational Mathematics of the CNR (created in 1993 by Prof. Milvio Capovani and formed by a group of computational mathematical researchers from the IEI, Information Processing Institute, another CNR institute based in Pisa).

In September 2000, with full operation from 2002, CNUCE and IEI also merged to form a new institute. This is today’s ISTI (Institute of Science and Information Technology “Alessandro Faedo”). The large machines vanished and more specific research and technological transfer activities with personal computers and workstations arrived.

Further information on CNUCE publications can be accessed through the PUMA program (PUblication MAnagement) of the CNR Library of Pisa.

Directors READ

1965: Alessandro Faedo