Beatrice H. (Trixie) Worsley
Associate Professor (Deceased) Department of Computing and Information Science Queen’s University
Beatrice (Trixie) Helen Worsley is recognized as a Canadian computer pioneer. She played an important role in establishing two of Canada’s top Computer Science departments, at Queen’s U. and at the U. of Toronto. She studied at MIT, where Vannevar Bush had recently designed the differential analyzer. Her 1947 Masters thesis from MIT was a comprehensive mathematical survey of computing devices with an appendix on error analysis of differential analyzers that confirmed and explained the experiences of analyzer users. It included a detailed comparison of the features of some of the first generation of computers (analog and digital) including Harvard’s Mark I and II, the ENIAC, the EDVAC, MIT’s Whirlwind I and II, and the University of Cambridge’s EDSAC. Her work remains a fascinating account of the very first steps in the computer revolution. At Cambridge U., UK, she wrote what is certainly one of the first PhD dissertations involving modern computers. She participated in (and documented [Worsley, 1950]) the first demonstration of Cambridge’s EDSAC computer. With Pat Hume, she developed the first compiler, Transcode, for FERUT (one of Canada’s earliest computers, a computer Worsley is also said to have named) [Hume and Worsley, 1955]. This work had a dramatic impact across the country. By improving the programmability of the notoriously difficult FERUT, bug-free jobs could be developed and even submitted remotely, via mail or teletype. This enabled dozens of research groups from across Canada to use the FERUT to solve a wide-array of scientific problems. Worsley was a data scientist, publishing her careful and meticulous computational insights and solutions for a variety of deep scientific problems in physics, biology and mathematics journals. And this was long before the Harvard Business Review declared data scientist to be the “sexiest job of the 21st century”. She accomplished all this and more in a very short, but admirable, career that was ended by a fatal heart attack at the age of 50 in 1972 while Professor Worsley was on her first sabbatical at the U. of Waterloo.
Information in this nomination is largely drawn from Scott M. Campbell’s excellent biography “Beatrice Helen Worsley: Canada’s Female Computer Pioneer” published in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Oct-Dec 2003), p.51–62. The first Department of Computer Science in Canada was established in 1964, so due to Professor Worsley’s untimely death in 1972, she was not a CS faculty member for 10 years. And it is important to remember that her amazing academic accomplishments were largely achieved before any official CS department existed in Canada rendering them all the more remarkable. Worsley did not have the benefits (and security) of a strong, internationally recognized Canadian CS academic community that we now take for granted.
Her biographer Campbell, notes: “Although she had a PhD from Cambridge, was a core
member of the Computation Centre teaching staff with more publications than anyone else, and had been performing valuable research for the university for over a decade, it was not until 1960 that Worsley was promoted from Computation Centre mathematician to assistant professor of physics. Eventually, when the U. of Toronto created a graduate department of computer science in 1964, she was promoted to associate professor of physics and computer science. In comparison to other staff members, the lack of official recognition is conspicuous and is almost certainly because of her gender.”
He also speculates that the discrimination was a reason for her leaving, in 1965, a faculty position for Queen’s where there was not yet a CS dept. She was the computer science advisor at Queen’s Centre of Computing. With Mers Kutt, she led the academic development of the Dept. of Computer and Information Science that was established in 1968, at which time she was immediately promoted to associate professor of the new department. Worsley was actually acting as CS faculty (with full teaching, research, academic service) for two decades even though she was not recognized as a “professor” for all of these years.
[Worsley, 1950] Beatrice H. Worsley, “The EDSAC Demonstration”, in Report of a Conference on High-Speed Automatic Calculating Machines, 22-25 June 1949, Cambridge University Mathematical Laboratory, 1950. Reprinted as pp. 415-429 of B. Randell, Origins of Digital Computers, Springer-Verlag, 1983.
[Hume and Worsley, 1955] J. N. P. Hume, Beatrice H. Worsley. TRANSCODE, A System of Automatic Coding for FERUT Journal of the ACM (JACM). Volume 2 Issue 4, Oct. 1955. pp.
Canadian Association of Computer ScienceAssociation informatique canadienne Award for Lifetime Achievement in Computer Science – 2014
Photo courtesy of the Department of Computer Science (DCS), University of Toronto