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Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.

Kenan Distinguished Professor Emeritus (Deceased)

Department Founder

Ph.D. 1956, Harvard. 3D interactive computer graphics; human-computer interaction; virtual worlds; computer architecture; the design process.


Frederick P.  Brooks Jr. was born in 1931 of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, parents. He received the A.B in Physics from Duke University in 1953, and the Ph.D. in Computer Science from Harvard University in 1956, under Howard Aiken. Dr. Brooks joined IBM Corporation, working in Poughkeepsie and Yorktown, New York, from 1956 to 1965. He was an architect of the Stretch and Harvest computers and then was Project Manager for the development of IBM’s System/360 family of computers and OS/360 software. For this work, he received a National Medal of Technology. In 1957, Dr. Brooks and Dura Sweeney invented a Stretch interrupt system that introduced most features of today’s interrupt systems. Dr. Brooks coined the term computer architecture. His system/360 team first achieved strict compatibility, upward and downward, in a computer family. His early concern for word processing led to his selection of the 8-bit byte and the lowercase alphabet for the System/360, engineering of many new 8-bit input/output devices, and providing a character-string datatype in PL/I. In 1964, Dr. Brooks founded the Department of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and chaired it for 20 years. He retired as a Kenan Professor of Computer Science. His principal research was in real-time, three-dimensional, computer graphics—“virtual environments.” His research has helped biochemists solve the structure of complex molecules and has enabled architects to “walk through” buildings still being designed. He pioneered the use of force display to supplement visual graphics. Dr. Brooks distilled the successes and failures of the development of Operating System/360 in The Mythical Man-Month: Essays in Software Engineering, (1975; enlarged Anniversary Edition, 1995).  He further examined software engineering in his well-known 1986 paper, “No Silver Bullet.” His major work is the research monograph, Computer Architecture: Concepts and Evolution (1997), with Professor Gerrit Blaauw. Dr. Brooks served on the National Science Board and the Defense Science Board. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Royal (U.K.) Academy of Engineers. He has received the National Medal of Technology, 1999 ACM A.M. Turing Award, the Bower Award and Prize of the Franklin Institute, IEEE Computer Society’s McDowell and Computer Pioneer Awards, the ACM Distinguished Service Award, the AFIPS Harry Goode Award, and an honorary doctorate from ETH-Zurich. In 2008, the Frederick P. Brooks Jr. Computer Science Building was dedicated in his honor. Housing a state-of-the-art graphics lab, it represents the growth and development of the Department. He and Nancy Greenwood Brooks were married for more than 50 years. They had three children: Kenneth, Roger, and Barbara, and nine grandchildren. Dr. Brooks became a Christian at age 31. He chaired the Executive Committee for the Central Carolina Billy Graham Crusade in 1973. The Brookses advised a graduate chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and he taught an adult Sunday School class for over twenty years.