Computer Laboratory

Wheeler Lectures

David Wheeler

The “Wheeler Lecture” is an annual series of distinguished lectures named after David Wheeler, one of the early pioneers of Computer Science. It usually takes place on a Wednesday in Lecture Theatre 1 of the William Gates Building.

David worked on the original EDSAC computer and wrote one of the first computer programs to be stored in a computer’s working memory. He pioneered the use of sub-routines and is particularly remembered for his work on data compression.

David Wheeler was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1981, one of the earliest computer scientists to be so honoured. In October 2003, he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum for his invention of the closed subroutine, his architectural contributions to the ILLIAC, the Cambridge Ring, and computer testing.

David started his PhD in the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory (then the Mathematical Laboratory) in the late 1940s, graduating in 1951. He then spent time at the University of Illinois before returning to the UK. He continued to work in the Computer Laboratory right up until his death, a decade after he had officially retired.

For further information about the Wheeler seminar series contact David Greaves.

Talks@cam entry

The next Wheeler Lecture is due to be given on Wednesday 25th May 2016 by Dr Andrew Herbert, OBE, FREng.

2016 – Andrew Herbert: A History of Virtualisation in Operating Systems.

Computer Laboratory folklore attributes the theory that “any problem in computer science can be solved by another level of indirection” to David Wheeler and indeed the theory can be seen at work in Wheeler’s initial orders and library subroutine system for EDSAC. In computer operating systems indirection is normally associated with some form of “virtualisation”. With roots in early operating system designs of the 1960s, virtualisation has become a key element of modern operating systems structure, especially in cloud computing. The lecture will explore the origins and evolution of virtualisation and the impact on modern computer hardware and operating systems architecture.

Andrew Herbert joined the Computer laboratory in 1975 as a PhD student working with Maurice Wilkes and Roger Needham on the Cambridge CAP Computer. Following subsequent work with Needham developing the Cambridge Distributed System, Andrew left the Laboratory for a career in industry culminating in becoming the Chairman of the Microsoft Research laboratories across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Having retired in 2010 he is currently managing a project to build a reconstruction of EDSAC at the National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park. He hopes to have the replica operational this year.

This talk is an extended version of an invited talk given at the ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles “History Day” last year.


The programme for the day is as follows:

  • 14:30 ‘Minute madness’: a selection of one minute talks showcasing current research at the Computer Laboratory. The full programme for these talks is now available.
  • 15:30 Tea.
  • 16:00 Wheeler lecture.
  • 17:00 Drinks reception.

There is no charge to attend, but it would be helpful if you could register your interest using the booking form.

2015 – Butler Lampson: Hints and Principles for Computer System Design

The fourth Wheeler Lecture was given at the Computer Laboratory on Tuesday 26th May, 2015. The speaker was Butler Lampson, Technical Fellow at Microsoft, and Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Abstract and further details.

2014 – Jeannette M. Wing: Computational Thinking

The Computer Laboratory will celebrated the 10th Anniversary of women@CL on Wednesday 14th May 2014, and the annual Wheeler Lecture was given on that day by Prof. Jeannette Wing. Abstract and further information.

2013 – Tony Hoare: Could Computers Understand Their Own Programs?

The Computer Laboratory celebrated its 75th anniversary on Wednesday 24th April, 2013. The annual Wheeler lecture was given that day by Sir Tony Hoare, Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Oxford, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and Honorary Member of the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory. Abstract.

2012 – Bjarne Stroustrup: C++11 Style

The first Wheeler Lecture was held at the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory on Wednesday 15 February 2012, at 16:00. The speaker was Bjarne Stroustrup who talked on C++11 Style. Abstract and further details.