pISSN 0705-3797 eISSN 2586-1298
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Episodes 1990; 13(1): 18-21

Published online March 1, 1990


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

Notes on the prehistory and early history of digitized data bases and related information systems in igneous petrology

Felix Chayes

Department of Mineral Sciences of the Smithsonian Institution

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Geochemical data are essentially numerical and, as such, are best stored, retrieved, tabulated, and manipulated by machines. In the 1950s, computer programs were written to undertake many of the routine calculations common in petrology. The ensuing 20 years saw numerical analysis of geochemical data grow enormously in functionality and sophistication. The entry and storage of data using punched-card stacks, common to all early work, gave way to magnetic tape, then to data-entry terminals using active drum or disc mass-storage devices. By the middle 1970s, electronic processing of numerical data brought petrology to a divide comparable in importance to that of the printing press and the processing of letters and words. Naturalists would have to become computer-literate. Requirements and capabilities changed as data bases and applications gradually migrated from mainframe computers to minicomputers and then to microcomputers. Now petrologists can choose general purpose, commercially available data base management systems of remarkable power and sophistication or create custom-programmed systems that meet more specific requirements. (Ed.)