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2-bit computer project gives students hands-on experience

Alumni Feb 14, 2024
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KOKOMO, Ind. — Building a computer from scratch builds better programmers.

That’s the theory behind a project in an Indiana University Kokomo computer science class.

Recent graduates Joseph Picard and Wesley Grove, who are both working as software developers, built a 2-bit computer with Md Nour Hossain, assistant professor of computer science and informatics, in his computer structures class.

“One of the learning outcomes we want to see from this class is that students should have a solid understanding of how a computer works (inside),” Hossain said. “Many of the mechanisms we can explain with some kind of demonstration software, but if you make it hands on, the students are going to get a better understanding. After completing this build, they can demonstrate how the brain of the computer works.”

It will help them become better software developers as well.

“It’s beneficial for them to know how the computer works,” he said. “When you write a program, you’re writing a set of instructions, and you are giving the instructions to that machine. If you know how that machine really works, you can give better instructions.”

Pickard, Kokomo, said the project helped him visualize what he learned in class.

“One of the greatest things was the crystallization of the concepts in the course,” he said. “Computer structures deal a lot with the actual circuitry of the computer and how things function. There’s a big difference between going through a lecture and discussing it and understanding it on that level. To be able to implement it in real life, trying out things and getting that grasp on it has been a fun process.”

He began the project during the spring 2022 semester and continued with it after graduating that May. He’s currently a full-time staff developer at Omnisource Marketing in Indianapolis.

The 2-bit computer is a very basic CPU that can perform four operations: And, or, add, or subtract. A bit is the smallest unit of information. Smaller bit computers process data in smaller chunks than a larger bit computer.

“As a user, whatever we do, email, playing video games, accessing social media, everything we see in terms of text, images, or videos, underneath everything is actually numbers,” Nour said. “Even if you are sending an email, it will be transferred to numbers at some point. Some computers can add 32 bits at a time, there are some that can add 64 bits at a time. Our computer can add 2 bits at a time.”

Since completion, the 2-bit computer is displayed in Hunt Hall on the second floor, where people can see it and try it.

“Now, I can use it in my class and some other classes to demonstrate how the CPU, the brain of the computer, actually functions,” he said.

Hossain plans to expand the computer in the future, adding more bits, and to connect a keyboard and display.

“This transformation will result in a fully functional generic computer, showcasing the complete lifecycle of a computer,” he said.

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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