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CHIPS Articles: The Nanosecond

The Nanosecond
By Sharon Anderson - January-March 2012
"Man our ship and bring her to life!" The guided missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) was commissioned on Sept. 6, 1997, in San Francisco, Calif. This was the first time since World War II, and only the second time in Naval history that a warship was named for a woman from the Navy's own ranks.

Anyone who was fortunate enough to hear Grace Hopper speak probably heard her example of the "nanosecond." Hopper liked to use visual examples when addressing an audience and she frequently admonished young Naval officers and programmers not to waste time—not even a nanosecond. She used a foot-long piece of wire to represent a nanosecond, which is equal to the distance traveled by an electron along the wire in the space of a nanosecond—one billionth of a second. She sometimes contrasted this example with a microsecond—by flourishing a coil of wire nearly a thousand feet long that the tough and wiry Hopper could easily manage with style and a steady wrist.

Rear Adm. Hopper left a lasting impact on those she taught, student's first impressions of a frail, charming, white-haired lady in a Naval uniform quickly changed to one of respect at her sharp wit and remarkable energy.

The few times that I saw her in the 1980s at the Navy Micro Conference (forerunner of Connecting Technology), I was intrigued by her. I knew she was "Amazing Grace" and I knew why, but she was so approachable, pleasant and easy to talk to that she didn't quite fit my idea of a legend. She embraced life, learning and technology with equal zeal.

Working On CHIPS, I frequently meet people who remember her genius and humor—the nanosecond is always a favorite story. Many also comment on her remarkable vision for the future—desktop technology with children writing programs and doing homework on personal computers.

Throughout her life she was most proud of her service to her country. She died on New Year's Day in 1992, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

Photo of Admiral Grace Hopper with the ship named after her
Grace Hopper
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