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DAVIES, Donald Watts (1924-2000)

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0098 B/DAVIES, D.W.
Held at: Imperial College of Science Technology and Medicine
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Full title: DAVIES, Donald Watts (1924-2000)
Date(s): Created 1936- 2004
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 30 Boxes
Name of creator(s): Davies | Donald Watts | 1924-2000 | computer scientist


Administrative/Biographical history:

Born in Treorchy in the Rhodda Valley on 7 July 1924. In July 1925 his father died and Davies moved with his mother and twin sister to Portsmouth to live with his maternal grandmother and aunt. In 1941, on the completion of his school education at the Portsmouth Boys Southern Secondary School, he took up a `Royal' Scholarship at Imperial College London where he studies physics. In 1943 he graduated with first-class honours and was directed to work at Birmingham University as a research assistant in the Tube Alloys Project (the British contribution to the development of nuclear weapons) under R.E. Peierls and later A.H. Wilson. Davies's main work was concerned with the stability and control problems for the gaseous diffusion plant. In 1944 he continued to work for the Tube Alloys Project at ICI, Billingham, on Teeside and in 1945 at the close of the project he returned to Birmingham to work in the Physics Department under M.L.E. Oliphant. The overlap between the courses at Imperial College allowed Davies to complete the requirements for a mathematics degree in a year and he resumed the scholarship for that purpose, graduating with first class honours in 1947.

The National Physics Laboratory was setting up a group to build a stored program computer under the direction of A.M. Turing and Davies joined this group and began working on the logic design and later the building of the ACE Computer. When the Pilot ACE was built, Davies became a user, working on a variety of simulations, including the behaviour of road junctions controlled by traffic lights. In 1954 Davies was awarded a Harkness Fellowship to study in the USA. He came to view his choice of MIT as an error because all the interesting computer work was classified. The period at MIT was interrupted by a special mission for the United Nations, investigating a request from the Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta for funds to buy equipment from the USSR. Subsequently he was involved for a number of years on two new projects. One was the development of the cryotron, a superconducting device with potential for the large-scale integration of logic and storage. However, efforts in this area foundered on engineering problems of many kinds. The other was the translation by computer from Russia to English. Davies concluded that although `we were not able to set up a serviced based on this work ... it is noteworthy that our real experience ... was very different from the accepted public view of machine translation.

In the early 1960s time-sharing whereby a large computer gave an online service to a number of users was very much the coming thing. In 1965 Davies proposed, in a privately circulated paper, the principle for a data communication network which he subsequently named 'packet switching'. In March of the following year he lectured to a large audience, advocating the use of techniques in a public switched data network.

In 1966 Davies was appointed Superintendent of the Division of Computer Science where the programme of research included data communication systems, information systems, pattern recognition and man-computer interaction. The data communication proposals for specialised networks using packet switching were widely publicised in 1967 and greatly influenced the early development of ARPA Network. Davies successfully promoted packet switching for public networks at the CCITT (International Consultative Committee for Telephones and Telegraphs) and elsewhere. In 1973 he published (with D.L.A. Barber) Communication Networks for Computers and in 1979 (with Barber, W.L. Price and C.M. Solomonides) Computer Networks and their Protocols.

In 1975 Davies received the John Player Award of the British Computer Society for his work in packet switching and shared the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Internet Award for 2000 for work on packet switching.

In 1978 Davies was given the status of an 'individual merit' appointment at the NPL enabling him to relinquish administrative responsibilities, and he led a small research team concerned with security of data in networks. The team developed the application of cryptographic methods to the practical work of network security, especially the use of asymmetric (public key) cryptography. Consulting work under contract to financial institutions and others provided the practical experience. After Davies retired from NPL in 1984, he provided consultancy to financial institutions on high value payment systems and advised suppliers and users of secure systems of many kinds, for example mobile telephony and direct broadcast satellite television. In 1984 he published (with W.L. Price) Security for computer networks: an introduction to data security in teleprocessing and electronic funds transfer. Davies also pursued his interest in cryptography as a hobby with research on Second World War cipher machines and published an number of articles on the topic.

Davies was appointed CBE in 1983 and elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1987. In 1955 Davies married Diane Burton which whom he had three children. He died on 28 May 2000.


Scope and content/abstract:

Biographical material is not extensive. An overall sense of Davies's life and work is provided by the contents of his 'Personal' folder of biographical notes, curricula vitae, lists of publications, examples of projects undertaken, etc. There is a little material recording Davies's schooling and university education and some documentation of his career. An unusual insight into the companies for which Davies acted and individuals with whom he came into contact later in his career is given by a collection of his business cards, some annotated. Also documented in this section is Davies's interest in various types of puzzles. There is a little posthumous material, including obituaries. As a number of biographical papers have been retained in family hands, some of the material is photocopy only.

Research material forms the largest part of the collection. These materials were found in Davies's labelled 'transfer cases' or box files which form the basic unit of organisation. There is a sequence of 'Notes of Miscellaneous Scientific Work', covering an extended period, 1952-1996. The contents of many of the containers relate to Davies's security interests with material from 1970s onwards, for example 'Data Security MS Notes', 1978-1984 and 'Public Key Ciphers' (two containers), 1970-1997. Papers relating to packet switching are to be found in Section F Historical Topics.

Papers relating to lectures and publications, presents sequences of papers designated by Davies as either lectures of publications. The lectures sequence covers a relatively short period, 1990-1995, and relates to computer history and security questions. The publications material covers a much more extended period, 1956-2000, and includes off prints, photocopied papers and copies of the journals in which publications by Davies appeared. There may be additional material relating to Davies's lectures and publications in other sections of the catalogue, especially Research and Historical topics and Correspondence.

Societies and organisations, is not an extensive section, comprising just four bodies, covering the period 1987-2000: British Computer Society, International Council for Computer Communication (ICCC), Royal Society and Worshipful Company of Information Technologists.

Papers relating to consultancies, provides documentation, 1986-1998, relating to a small number of consultancies which Davies held after his retirement from the National Physics Laboratory.

Papers relating to historical topics, presents important documentation of some of Davies's most important research, such as packet switching, as well as interest he pursued in his spare time such as Second World War cipher machines. These materials were found in Davies's labelled 'transfer cases' or box files which form the basic unit of organisation. There are interesting records relating to early computers organised in relation to a meeting held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Pilot Model ACE (Automated Computing Engine) in the year 2000. Packet switching is represented by a sequence 'Historical Notes / Early Packet Switching etc' 1949-2000, which includes copies of original documentation and historical reflections by Davies and others. There is an extensive record of Davies's interest in the history of cryptography including correspondence with others who shared his interests, typescript drafts of articles by Davies, photographs and photocopies of original documentation. Also represented in the section are Davies's interests in the history of the National Physics Laboratory itself and the Turing Machine.

Correspondence, is not extensive and is presented in four sequences. The first is the contents of Davies's folder of 'Misc. Correspondence', 1970-2000. Although the great bulk comes from the last fifteen years of Davies's life, the sequence also includes three letters from Sara Turing, mother of Alan Turing, 1970-1971, relating principally to their mutual interest in Second World War German cipher machines; of publications correspondence, 1988-1999; and of correspondence relating to a patent case 1994-2001. There is also an index of correspondence.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

By section as follows: Biographical, Research, Lectures and Publications, Societies and Organisations, Consultancies, Historical Topics, Correspondence.

Conditions governing access:

Researchers wishing to consult the Archives should first contact the Special Collections Archivist, Imperial College London Library, Exhibition Road, London SW7 2AZ, for an appointment.

Conditions governing reproduction:

A photocopying service is available at the discretion of the Archivist. Photocopies are supplied for research use only. Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archivist.

Finding aids:

A catalogue is available at the Archives.

Archival Information

Archival history:

Papers received by the family of Mr Donald Davies in June 2004.

Immediate source of acquisition:

Transferred from the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, University of Bath to Imperial College London Library Archives and Special Collections.

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:
NCUACS catalogue no. 143/8/05

Rules or conventions:
General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000; National Council on Archives Rules for the Construction of Personal Place and Corporate Names 1997.

Date(s) of descriptions:
May 2006

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