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BCL-CSL Commemorative Painting

BCL-CSL Commemorative Painting by Lewis J. Thomas, Jr., MD

*This painting (oil and acrylic on canvas, 48”x36”) by Lewis J. Thomas, Jr., M.D., former Director of the Biomedical Computer Laboratory and Associate Director of Institute for Biomedical Computing at Washington University, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the founding of the computer labs.  Click the image above to enlarge. 

The following description of the BCL-CSL Commemorative Painting was provided by the artist.

This painting is about the interactive laboratory computing that began in 1964 at the Washington University Medical School (WUMS).  The painting’s background depicts the console and early keyboard of the LINC (Laboratory INstrument Computer).  The LINC stimulated the founding of two computer labs at WUMS, both in the old Shriners’ Hospital Building: the Biomedical Computer Lab (BCL) and Computer Research Lab (CRL), later renamed the Computer Systems Lab (CSL).

As Gordon Bell put it, “LINC was the world’s first personal computer.” As such, it changed the way computers came to be used and it defined the styles of both BCL and CSL.  The LINC was developed at MIT’s Lincoln Lab in 1962 by Wesley Clark (lower left) and the late Charles Molnar (upper left).  Among other things Charlie had perfected the tape drives so I show him hovering over them.

Jerome Cox (lower right) had the vision to convince the LINC group to move to WU.  They had been searching for a new home.  As a DoD facility, MIT’s Lincoln Lab was focused on systems for air defense, not small interactive computers for biomedical research.  Portraits of many others who were key to the success of the labs could have been added.  As a practical limit I chose those few upon whom all would certainly agree. 

For developing and applying advanced computer systems, Wes Clark founded and directed CRL/CSL (Charlie became Director in 1972).  For introducing interactive computing to collaborating biomedical scientists at WU and elsewhere, Jerry Cox founded and directed BCL (I became Director in 1975).  The labs’ research programs became national and then international in scope as their work was shared with extramural collaborators.  In 1984, BCL and CSL were joined administratively to form the Institute for Biomedical Computing (IBC) with Charlie as Director and me as Associate Director. 

The overlays in the painting represent some of the labs’ noteworthy activities over the more than 30 years of their existence.  Apologies are due those involved in the many other projects that would have pushed the clutter too far.  Because the overlays are rather cryptic, except to those who worked in or collaborated with the labs, supplemental notes are appended.

Supplemental Notes

1. “Glitch” alludes to CSL’s discovery of metastability, a critical phenomenon in digital-logic devices.  It was initially doubted by the industry but later accepted as a persistent and nettlesome cause of computer failures.  At present, protective designs are still essential.

2. Sensory biophysics refers to Charlie Molnar’s award-winning work on cochlear neural transductions that his coworkers showed to have important nonlinear properties.

3. VSLI refers to early CSL work to bring very-large-scale integrated-circuit technology to application-specific designs.

4. Macromodules were modular components conceived and developed by CSL.  They could be interconnected to construct computers of arbitrary complexity and size for proving and evaluating computer designs or for ad hoc systems.

5. Molecular Modeling - MMS-X was a macromodular system for modeling complex molecules.  It was used for the design of new drugs and spun off a commercial firm.

6. TX-0 TX-2 LINC is the sequence of computers developed by Wes Clark that culminated in the LINC.

7. The LINC’s magnetic-core memory is suggested by the array of elements to the right of Wes’s head.  It was developed by participants in the LINC group in 1953 for an earlier computer at MIT (“Whirlwind”).  It was the most effective random-access memory until solid-state memory replaced it more than 20 years later.

8. Mass spectrometry refers to BCL’s work on computer control of mass-spec systems and data analysis. It was spun off as a separately supported research facility at WU and later as a commercial firm.

9. DNA analysis refers to BCL’s work with WU’s Genome Center to apply computational methods to facilitate DNA sequencing and allele-frequency estimation.

10. “Convocation on the Mississippi...,” on the oscilloscope display recalls a definitive 1965 meeting of 12 national participants in a LINC evaluation program supported by NIH.  The patterns of the 4-by-6 dot-matrix characters are true to what was used back then.

11. SICU Monitoring was a BCL project that developed the very first computer-based system for monitoring, displaying and analyzing vital physiological signals in a clinical setting.  It ran for seven years in Barnes Hospital’s cardio-thoracic surgical intensive care unit.

12. EM autoradiography was a BCL project that devised methods to correct for tracer spread in electron-microscopic autoradiograms.

13. Image Reconstruction (ML etc.) refers to long-standing BCL work to apply the computationally demanding maximum-likelihood (and other) statistical methods to improve images in many contexts, from 3-D light microscopy to radiologic imaging (PET, CT, and MRI).

14. The diagram labeled PET depicts Positron-Emission Tomography for which BCL’s image-reconstruction algorithms were essential.  It became possible to incorporate information about the differential time of flight from source to detector of photons emitted from the positron-electron annihilations for ‘ToF-PET.’

15. The Radiation Treatment Planning diagram refers to a BCL project that computerized calculations for improved optimization of dose distributions for radiation therapy.  The project used a new computer (“Programmed Console") developed by a class in computer design.  It was later exported commercially.

16. Functional Brain Imaging was a BCL collaboration with neurology to use computational methods to detect regional brain activity using metabolic tracers.

17. “HAVOC” was the acronym for a specialized computer system developed by Jerry Cox to use evoked-response averaging and analysis for evaluating hearing in infants.  It was what got Jerry into biomedical computing and led him to the LINC group.

18. “ARGUS” was a BCL development of the first computer-based system for detecting and alarming for ECG arrhythmias in a cardiac care unit.  It was installed at Barnes Hospital.  It led later to the first computer system for high-speed analysis of long-term ECG (Holter) recordings.  It was disseminated worldwide.

19. Computers in Cardiology was an international annual meeting established by BCL and Erasmus University (Rotterdam, The Netherlands) that stemmed from BCL’s work on ECG processing.  Meetings alternated on both sides of the Atlantic for many years.

20. Ultrasonic Tomography was a BCL collaboration with the Department of Physics for the analysis and imaging of ultrasonic backscatter from the heart.  It was able to discern myocardial anisotropy as well as injury.  Other annotations include the numbers of two of the labs’ more dominant grants and major supporting-agency acronyms.

Other annotations include the numbers of two of the labs' more dominant grants and major supporting-agency acronyms.

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