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Grace's Place is haven for forgotten technology

New UM-St. Louis computer museum in CCB honors Grace Hopper

Vicki Sauter, professor of management information systems, stands in front of Grace´s Place, a new computer museum on the second floor of CCB. Sauter and three doctoral students worked on the display, which features early and modern computer technology. The museum is named after computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper.
Media Credit: Mike Sherwin
Vicki Sauter, professor of management information systems, stands in front of Grace´s Place, a new computer museum on the second floor of CCB. Sauter and three doctoral students worked on the display, which features early and modern computer technology. The museum is named after computer pioneer Grace Murray Hopper.

UM-St. Louis is the home of Grace's Place, a welcoming museum of the history of computers. Located on the second floor of the Campus Computer Building, Grace's Place houses a wide variety of technology, both current and outdated.
The museum has a variety of keyboards, including one in Hebrew. Many of the pieces are dismantled, allowing students to see the internal structure of the computers. Vicki Sauter, professor of management information systems, came up with the idea for Grace's Place 15 years ago.
"As technology changes, people lose what it was," Sauter said. "You must know where technology came from to know where it is going. The more you know about computers, the less frightened you are."
Sauter and three doctoral students began work on Grace's Place last summer. They gathered display cases and began to decide on the pieces that would make it into the museum. Most of the items came from student donations, professors and friends of the University.
Sauter is planning to continue to add to the museum. They receive most of the displays through donations.
"We look for items that are unique, show trends and show different perspectives," Sauter said.
The museum is named after Grace Murray Hopper (1906 - 1992), a woman who played an integral part in the early stages of computer technology. Hopper founded a computer language named COBOL. She also coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth in an early computer that she was working on.
A sign in the museum records Hopper's account of the discovery: "Things were going badly; there was something wrong in one of the circuits of the longs glass-enclosed computer. Finally, someone located the trouble spot and, using ordinary tweezers, removed the problem, a 2-inch moth. From then on, when anything went wrong with a computer, we said it had bugs in it."
Hopper fought for and won entry into the Navy, reaching the rank of rear admiral before she retired at the age of 80. She was also the first woman to have a battleship in her name. She received the National Medal of Technology in 1991.
Hopper also believed in showing physical examples of abstract ideas. Grace's Place displays a 12-inch strand of wire, which represents how far an electrical current can move in a nanosecond.
These physical representations of concepts that the normal student is not able to see or touch is just one of the many things that inspired Sauter to create this museum.
"It helps students visualize what they are learning," Sauter said. "Physical representations help make abstract ideas clearer."
Many of the students who have visited the museum find it enlightening.
"All the old computers are interesting," Tatum Megli, junior, special education, said. "It was really neat to see what the inside of them looks like. I didn't even know it was here."
The entire UM-St. Louis community is invited to a grand opening for Grace's Place, scheduled for March 19 at 4 p.m.



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