Wolfgang J. Poppelbaum

Wolfgang J. Poppelbaum

Wolfgang (Ted) Johann Poppelbaum was born on August 28th, 1924 in Frankfurt, Germany to Hermann and Edith Poppelbaum. He pursued his interest in Physics and Mathematics at the University of Lausanne in 1944. He received his MS in Physics in 1948, and his PhD in 1953, graduating Summa Cum Laude.

While in school, he published papers on the theory of electrical and thermal conductivity in crystals subjected to magnetic fields and taught about Quantum Mechanics and Electronics.

In 1954, W. J. Poppelbaum joined the Solid State Research Group under Professor John Bardeen at the University of Illinois and worked on the theory and practice of an electrolytic analog of a junction transistor.

ILLIAC II Computer Boards


In 1955, he became an Assistant Professor of Computer Science, and the Digital Computer Laboratory asked him to join its research group. He was in charge of Circuit Research where his group developed the basic circuits for the ILLIAC II. It was shortly after in 1959 that he became an Associate Professor.

These innovations were crucial to the university and the world. Today the University of Illinois can boast about creating the Blue Waters supercomputer. It has petascale computing capabilities, is one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is one of the fastest supercomputers on a university campus. This all began with ILLIAC, and advancements in computing made by faculty at the University of Illinois like Poppelbaum.

Digital Computer Laboratory, 1989
Digital Computer Laboratory, 1989

Throughout these years Poppelbaum taught numerous courses at the university. These included courses on Hardware Design, Logical Design of Computers, Boolean Algebra, Information and Signal Processing, and Device Theory for Logic and for Memories. He wrote many articles and papers, both in Solid State Physics and Computer Design. He also authored 12 books, the most famous being Computer Hardware Theory (1972), a textbook for advanced undergraduates. He became an emeritus professor in 1989.

Poppelbaum was a member or chairman of many professional organizations. He was also an Associate Editor of Pattern Recognition and Computers and Structures. He was a Fellow of the IEEE for the year 1978-79, and an Associate Member of the Center for Advanced Study at the University of Illinois. His name also appeared in Marquis’ Who’s Who and American Men of Science.

He passed away on January 20, 1993 in Illinois at the age of 68, as an emeritus professor at the university.

– Digital Computer Lab (DCL).  Historical Marker located at the southwest end of the Digital Computer Lab.

National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Where the Blue Waters supercomputer is located.


For more on Poppelbaum’s patents click here 


Anderson, B. (2013, Sept. 23). The Birth of the Computer Age at Illinois [web log comment]. Retrieved from https://archives.library.illinois.edu/blog/birth-of-the-computer-age/

Digital Computer Laboratory exterior. (n.d). Computer Science Photograph File, 1949-90. Record Series 11/15/10, Box 1, Folder DCL (Digital Computer Lab), 1958-90. University of Illinois Archives.

ILLIAC II. (1958-1961). Computer Science Photograph File, 1949-90. Record Series 11/1/12 Box 3 Digital Computer Lab (incl. Illiac II), ca. 1961. University of Illinois Archives.

Kowack, G. (1989). Professor Poppelbaum Retires. CS ALumni News. Retrieved from https://cs.illinois.edu/sites/default/files/newsletters/spring89.pdf (Images of Poppelbaum and DCL)

National Center for Supercomputing Applications. (2018). About Blue Waters. Retrieved from http://www.ncsa.illinois.edu/enabling/BlueWaters

Poppelbaum, W.J. (1972). Computer Hardware Theory. New York: Macmillan.

Prabook (2018). Wolfgang J. Poppelbaum. Retrieved from https://prabook.com/web/wolfgang_johann.poppelbaum/462204

Wolfgang J. Poppelbaum Papers (1959-1989). Record Series 11/15/21. University of Illinois Archives.

Contributors: Carla Stelsel