Freshman and Senior Seminars
CSE 87 and 192
Winter 2015
The Slide Rule
Before modern calculators and computers, the slide rule was the
calculating tool of choice for engineers and scientists.
Unlike its electronic successors, the slide rule is mindpowered,
and mindempowering.
In this seminar, we revive the lost skill and art of slide rule
operation, and explore some of the beautiful underlying mathematics
and computational properties of this remarkably simple yet powerful
instrument. Students will learn with
advanced loglog slide rules,
giving them the unique experience of using
highquality instruments that were used
many decades ago,
and are
guaranteed that this knowhow will impress their professors and
future employers beyond belief.
Prerequisites: none (other than basic high school math). In addition to
informative and enlightening, this should be a fun seminar, so your
active participation is the main requirement.
News

See
NPR article
on slide rules that mentions UCSD's Slide Rule Seminar

This Winter 2015, the Slide Rule Seminar has been expanded to two sections,
one for freshman (CSE 87) and one for seniors (CSE 192). The freshman
seminar will be an introductory class focusing mostly on how to use a
slide rule and how it works. The senior seminar will be an advanced
class focusing on the mathematical underpinnings of the slide rule.

Past offerings of this seminar have been in
Winter '03, Spring '03, Fall '04, Winter '06, and Spring '07.
(
photos
).

In this seminar, students use advancedlevel (loglog) slide rules,
giving them the unique experience of using
highquality instruments that engineers and scientists used
many decades ago.
Thanks go to the people who make slide rules available to us
(either free or at very low cost),
including
Mr. Dick Rose, who runs
Rose Vintage Instruments,
and Mr. Kay Dennert,
whose family ran the Aristo slide rule company.
Topics
The initial meetings will focus on getting familiar with the slide rule:
how it works, how to use all the scales, working on interesting problems that
exercise the various scales, etc. We then go to historical and
advanced mathematical topics.
Here is a rough list (which will probably change).
 How a slide rule works, calculating with a slide rule
 Developmental history: Who invented the slide rule? What led to the invention, and how did it further develop afterwards?
 Prehistory (mathematical roots, related instruments), posthistory (death and comeback!)
 Theoretical considerations: What can and can't be calculated?
 Precision, accuracy, Holman's rules, approximate arithmetic
 Interesting mathematical properties (of scales, operation, slide rule form and structure)
 Types of slide rules: straight, circular, spiral, cylindrical, grid, multisegment, ...
 Survey of the greatest slide rules ever made
 Miscellaneous: Benford's Law, Why base 10?, Scale construction