1. Nuclear Data History

    By Jim Barstow
    The ND Series 130 was probably the first 512 channel transistorized MCA
    The ND Series 130 was probably the first 512 channel transistorized MCA

    (As remembered 50 years later) Nuclear Data was founded (~1960) by former Argonne National Laboratory Engineers (Robert Schumann and Norm Jones) and initially located in Madison Wisconsin. Previously, Multichannel Analyzers were vacuum tube based instruments, typically 100 channels.   Nuclear Data provided the first transistor based MCA, the ND-100, a small 256 channel instrument with circuit boards stacked like pages in a book.   The company expanded its product line with the ND-120, ND-130, and ND-180 Multichannel Analyzers.  Believing that a major transportation hub was necessary to expand its market domestically and internationally, Nuclear Data moved to Schaumburg Illinois, outside of Chicago O’Hare Airport in 1964.

    The ND-160, a multi-parameter MCA provided Nuclear Data with entry to the Nuclear Medicine Market (Organ Imaging Computer Based System). Nuclear Data partnered with a European Company to use an “Anger-Type Camera”, packaging a complete Organ Imaging system. The Nuclear Medicine Division was complemented with a Multi-Channel Analyzer System configured as a “Bone Densitometer”.   These products (Nuclear Data’s Nuclear Medicine Division) were sold to General Electric in ~1974.

    Nuclear Data provided Ortec, at the time a manufacturer of NIM modules, with an MCA (ND-1100) which Ortec marketed with their Front Panel.   It did not take Ortec long to design their own MCA, no longer requiring the ND MCA.

    Nuclear Data offered a new system concept, paring an MCA with a Digital Equipment Corporation “mini-computer” to enhance the data processing capability of the Multi-Channel Systems.  This system, the ND-50/50, was a success.  

    With the success of the 50/50 in mind, it was thought ND could be their own largest customer for Mini-Computers.   Jerry Gaughran headed up an engineering team designing a new Mini-Computer, the ND-812.  The ND-812 was the first Mini-Computer with 8K of memory, DMA, and hardware multiply / divide at under $10,000.   This was taken to WESCON in Los Angeles, and generated great interest.  Unfortunately, DEC announced the PDP-8e approximately one month later (followed by the PDP-11) and interest in the ND-812 outside of the Nuclear Industry disappeared.

     With the ND-812 at its base, ND also designed one of the first “Point of Sale” Systems. A Point of Sale System, with the ND-812 at the base, was installed for Jewell in Schaumburg.

    Deciding additional divisions were advantageous, printed circuit board company, Metropolitan Circuits, was purchased. ND received a large PC Board from IBM which was later cancelled.

    To further utilize the ND-812 mini-computer, Nuclear Data’s management dictated its architecture (Big Socket Board or BSB) be used as the base for its next Multichannel Analyzers. The computer based ND-2400 and ND-4400 were offered, along with the hardwired MCA system, the ND-2400.   Nuclear Data developed its own operating System, NUTRAN, to support the systems.   Although this was a Disc Operating System that could in fact operate with cassettes as the Mass Storage Media, it was difficult to compete against DEC’s DOS, and later, RT-11.

    The financial drain of the Point of Sale and Printed Circuit Board Divisions was exhaustive, and both were up for sale.   Unable to sell either, the Instrumentation Division was sold to CANBERRA Industries at the end of 1989.   Emery Olcott earned the respect and loyalty of long term key ND employees.

    The ND 2200 in the ersatz NIM format, was a very popular instrument which came out around 1967. The Canberra Detector Division bought one of these 4096 channel MCAs to test their Ge(Li) detectors. Printing was effected with a clunky solenoid assembly attached to an IBM Selectric typewriter which punched the number keys slowly but surely (when it was working properly). Hans Fiedler took this MCA with him to Germany as part of his separation agreement.