In the 1970s, a dazzling inventor, researcher, and physicist who helped give birth to the modern computer age could be found striding through Lakehead’s hallways wearing a tie and a Harris Tweed jacket.
Dr. Andrew Booth served as Lakehead University’s second president from 1972-78, but beginning in World War II, he used his genius to transform the field of computer science. Dr. Booth grew up in Surrey, England, with parents who encouraged his curiosity.
“In pre-kindergarten days I remember helping my father with the assembly of a mains charger for radio batteries which he had invented,” he recalls.1
At a time in the 1940s and 50s when computers were ponderous metal towers that filled rooms, Dr. Booth built three small computers, including the All Purpose Electronic Computer. His partner in these endeavours was fellow computer engineer Dr. Kathleen Britten who he would later marry.
As Lakehead’s president, Dr. Booth focused his energy on helping the university stay afloat in the face of provincial funding cuts and rebound from declining student enrolment.
“My first recollection of my time as President of Lakehead University is one of surprise,” Dr. Booth said. “At the time of my appointment I was told that the institution was in a healthy financial position – this illusion was rapidly dispelled when Grant Thompson, then the Comptroller, came into my office on my first day to ask me what I proposed to do about the deficit!”2
Dr. Bob Rosehart, who served under Dr. Booth as the Dean of University Schools before becoming Lakehead’s president in 1984, has vivid memories of Dr. Booth. “He was a short wiry man who was constantly moving,” says Dr. Rosehart. “Andrew was quirky and controversial,” he adds.
During his time in Thunder Bay, Dr. Booth stayed true to his roots. “He imprinted the importance of research on Lakehead at an early stage of its development,” Dr. Rosehart says.
Former registrar Pentti Paularinne agrees. “I think Andrew Booth coined the saying, ‘Lakehead is the Harvard of the North.’” Under Dr. Booth’s leadership, Lakehead’s first graduate programs were established.
Andrew Booth remains a revered figure in the scientific world. Not only did he build early computers, he also invented a magnetic storage device to hold computer data and developed Booth’s multiplication algorithm.
According to computer scientist Dr. Roger Johnson, this algorithm speeds up some of the calculations that a computer’s central processing unit carries out. “There are hundreds of them in a smartphone. In any chip that has a multiplier, the overwhelming majority will be a Booth multiplier.”3