Freshman Seminar CSE 87
Wednesdays 2:00-3:00, APM 4301
The Slide Rule
History, Theory, and Practice
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 mind-powered,
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 actual slide rules, and are
guaranteed that this know-how 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.
The first offering of this seminar in Winter 2003 was a great success.
See the photos!
On the last day, we were visited by
UC President Bob Dynes (then UCSD Chancellor) who told
us about his slide rule experiences during his school days and
as a scientist at Bell Labs.
Advanced-level (log-log) slide rules were generously donated by
Mr. Dick Rose (who runs
Rose Vintage Instruments),
giving our students the unique experience of using
high-quality instruments that engineers and scientists used
many decades ago.
Send me email if you are interested in the upcoming Fall 04 offering
of the seminar. Sign up early, as there will be limited seats.
If you are not a freshman and want to attend, let me know and I will
see what can be done.
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?
- Pre-history (mathematical roots, related instruments), post-history (death and come-back!)
- 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, multi-segment, ...
- Survey of the greatest slide rules ever made
- Miscellaneous: Benford's Law, Why base 10?, Scale construction