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Nikolay Petrovich Brusentsov

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Nikolay Petrovich Brusentsov was born in South Ukraine in Dneprodzerzhinsk (Kamenskoe), on the 7 th of February 1925.

Nikolay Petrovich Brusentsov

Brusentsov Nikolay Petrovich

His grandparents from the both sides worked for the railways. The father first studied at special faculty for workers and later, in 1930, graduated from the Institute of Mining Engineering in Dnepropetrovsk ( South Ukraine ). Than he worked as a specialist at a chemical plant.

N.P. Brusentsov tells about the best impressions of his childhood. Spiritual and social life of those years was far from easy or simple but, generally speaking, very supporting and promising. On his strong opinion those were the feelings of unity, solidarity and optimism of those years that maintained soviet people in their successful struggle against Nazi invasion and hardships of war.

He himself grew up as an ordinary child, without any “scientific ambitions”. Studied at school and was fond of music: wrote songs, played horn and learned to play balalaika as he was spending vocations at a pioneer summer camp. However, “official” piano lessons were a failure. Nikolay Petrovich commented that it was probably early manifestation of his independent nature, which rejects any rigid formalism, no matter where - in common life, music or science. He was also playing music in the evening 21 st of June 1941, conducting amateur chorus which was singing his songs, just several hours before the outbreak of war.

By that time he was already an orphan (the father died two years before). There were two more –younger- children in the family and the mother was working as a teacher of a nursery school that belonged to the same plant where his father had worked. As the Nazi armies were advancing all personnel of the plant and their families were evacuated following the plant equipment. Many industrial enterprises were saved from destruction in that way and soon they were re-built and again operated in the Urals, in Kazakhstan , etc. The family arrived to a place near town of Orenburg ( South Urals ). There they first had to live in camp of tents, in open steppe, and later in barracks. Everybody was engaged in construction of new steel melting plant which, in spite of all difficulties, was build surprisingly quickly. People were optimistic and proud of their patriotic mood. Nikolay was working as a turner's apprentice and learned at an evening school. In 1942 he entered Kiev Conservatory (it was evacuated to the Urals) but that learning was interrupted in February 1943, when he was mobilized to army. For some health reasons he was enlisted only in “auxiliary” radio service, what in reality turned into constant carrying of 15 kilogram radio set on his own back. However, he accepted it with humour.

It might be an odd feeling if one hasn't experienced it personally, but the front life stored many warm reminiscences. “Chiefly of the human relations; mutual support and real friendship clear from any material interest. Hardships and dangers were also plenty: several days surrounded by enemy, several days in swamps with water up to waist, hardly survived an explosion…”. “His war” ended in Koenigsberg and, soon after returning and joining his family at home in Dneprodzerzhinsk , he was working at the “father's” plant.

His analytic way of thinking manifested itself even then. A -seemingly insignificant- episode that, most probably, would just annoy somebody else brought him to “philosophic conclusion” - “never trust blindly any ‘theory' (said or written) before it is tested and proved”. That became a basic rule of his. Than the matter was in a scandal made by colleagues. He made a wrong project only on basis of somebody's documentation. He hadn't proved it and it turned to be wrong. It was a heavy mechanism to be mounted on top of a tower. One needs not much fantasy to imagine “arguments” of the plant workers, the young designer had to hear.

In 1946 the family moved to the town of Kalinin (now Twer'), not far from Moscow . There he successfully graduated from special school for “working young people” and then entered the Moscow Power-Engineering Institute. Hardships always followed him, that time it was an outbreak of tuberculosis, “popular” among the students – yesterday's soldiers. That was consequence of the war and malnutrition. The illness could interrupt his studies, but with a piece of luck and good treatment he managed to cope with the problem.

The faculty of radio, where he studied was a very good school. Dr. Vladimir Borisovich Pestryakov, their lecturer on radio-engineering, managed to demonstrate the “art of being real engineer”. By an amusing coincidence the military radio-set, that Brusentsov used to carry on his soldier's shoulders had been designed by Pestryakov. It was assembled mainly of the details taken from civil, home radio-sets collected from common people[1] into “defence fund” in the first years of the war. In fact Pestryakov was designer of numerous soviet radio-systems mounted on aeroplanes, tanks and “portable” ones carried by soldiers. He showed the students meaning of the notion “tolerance” in real installations and taught them how to design reliable circuitry and machinery, with low costs and minimum of defects during their mass production. Many of Pestryakov's graduates who joined scientific team of academician I.S. Bruk at the Power Institute AS USSR perfectly mastered that art. Among them were such future leading computer designers as M. Kartsev, N. Matiykhin, T. Alexandridi, L.Legezo, etc.

N.P. Brusentsov graduated in 1952 and received a position at the engineering design bureau of the Moscow State University (MSU). First the work was not interesting but after a talk with his intimate friend M. Kartsev he was invited to Bruk's laboratory, where electronic digital computing device – computer M-2 was being assembled. It was a thing he had never seen before. To his luck academician Sergey L'vovich Sobolev[2] (then head of the chair of calculating mathematics at MSU) was also interested in it, so he dispatched Brusentsov to Bruk's team for studying the computer.

According to Sobolev's initial plan, as well as to his personal agreement with Bruk, M-2 should be moved into the University. However, after some elections at the Academy where Sobolev voted for another candidate, emotional Bruk grew insulted and refused to give M-2 to MSU. Sobolev decided to start his own project of a new computer for university (educational) purposes. Brusentsov was appointed a designer in charge of the whole work.

First Sobolev established special regular theoretical seminar where he invited Mikhail Romanovich Shura-Bura - one of the leading soviet programmers, Konstantin Adol'fowich Semendyaev – the author of the word's best mathematical reference book and some other leading mathematicians. Thereafter young scientist Brusentsov and E.A. Zhogolev were “busy inventing” and the “seniors were busy criticizing them”. However, that distribution of labour “proved to be efficient”.

Sobolev arranged him special qualification up-grading, “apprenticeship” at another computer laboratory headed by Lev Izrailevich Gutenmacher (at the AS USSR). Gutenmacher also possessed not an easy character so all his works were performed under strict secrecy, but Sobolev was a “mighty person”. Gutenmacher was working out a computing device based on magnetic amplifiers.

Soon after the training at Gutenmacher's Brusentsov devised and assembled ternary summing unit which at once started operation and very soon demonstrated its reliability. Sobolev was satisfied with the project of ternary machine and promised all necessary help.

A detailed description of Brusentsov's unique ternary computer “Setun” would be rather long to be given here, but it can be found in numerous sources. Among the Russian publications -the on-line- «Серия ЭВМ СЕТУНЬ» (of the Russian Virtual Computer Museum ) is the most easily acceptable. As for the English language, the printed [2] and on-line [3] are the most recent and exhaustive. They also have been proved by N.P. Brusentsov himself .

However, in brief it looks the following. The first computer “Setun” (named after a small river in the university neighbourhood) was ready for operation by the end of the 1958. It was literally “hand-made” by the Brusentsov's team: E.A. Zhogolev, S.P. Maslov, V.V. Verigin, V.S. Beresin, B.Y. Feldman, N.S. Kartseva (M.Kartsev's wife) A.M. Tishulina, V.P. Rozin. Nikolay Petrovich told about their working style (volunteer). On mornings collaborators of his team were asked to make windings (52 wounds) on five magnetic cores for mini-amplifiers (“Setun” basic elements) before beginning their current work. “Setun” was in regular operation after only ten days of testing and minor improvements. That was unheard of thing in computer practice of those times.

According to the USSR Council of Ministers directive commercial production of the computer was trusted to the plant of mathematical machinery in Kazan '. Unfortunately the plant administration did not demonstrate any interest for production of big series, since “Setun” was too cheap. Only 15 till 20 machines a year were assembled, and even those for not very long. The arguments that it was very reliable and efficient no matter where it was installed, in Kaliningrad or Dushanbe , Odessa or Yakutsk (extreme North-East), and its lasting “heavy-duty” operation practically didn't need spare parts, did have no influence. A number of orders was received from customers of some European countries but also without response.

In 1961–1968 Brusentsov and Zhogolev improved the computer's architecture, having named new model - “Setun 70” . Operating model should be completed by the 1970 and so it did, in spite of extreme shortage of time. Brusentsov had to write testing programs himself, for Zhogolev found another work. Nevertheless the work was completed. Now Brusentsov was assisted by programmer Jose Ramil Alvarez, who actively participated, under Zhogolev's guidance, in development and implementation of software for “Setun”. “Setun70” had rather unusual two-stake architecture and syllable organised program coding in Polish inverse notation (POLIS).

A year later, in 1971, it was modified on basis of structured programming introduced by Edsger Dijkstra[3], which turned to be very convenient for the Setun's procedural language. Ramil Alvarez also successfully did programming work for it. The programs did possess the features claimed by Dijkstra, such as correctness, ability for modification and easiness in understanding. Thus “Setun 70” turned into computer with Dialog System of Structured Programming (DSSP).

Unfortunately, soon after creation of “Setun 70” , laboratory of N.P. Brusentsov was driven out of the MSU building and “stored” in an attic of a student hostel. Probably it happened so because ternary “Setun” looked ridiculous comparing with binary computers. The “baby” – the first “Setun” that operated 17 years without a failure, was destroyed in a rather barbarous way, it was transported to a garbage damp after having been cut into small pieces. However, “Setun 70” was saved for the university attic where the team used it for creation of “Nastavnik” (Tutor) – very clever package of courseware and methodical technologies for computer assisted learning. The “Nastavnik”is being in successful educational usage even in our days. (More than 30 years altogether).

Experience of the “Setun school” confirmed that, the ternary (Aristotle's) logic corresponds to natural way of human thinking much better than any other. Easy adaptability to human thinking (especially on the algorithm level of problem solution) simplified communications between programmer (user) and computer. That was why the technically simple computer proved to be so efficient in operation.

The best way to complete this narration is to quote Dr. N.P. Brusentsov himself. The given thesis is an essence of his life-long researches, confirmed by the rich theoretical and practical experience.

“… Investigating the reasons of the low intellectual level of computer information science, as well as of low contemporary level of the “artificial intelligence” solutions and incompatibility of the formal logic with the natural intellect we would come to inevitable conclusion that, the adopted –without need- by this (formal) logic “the law of excluded middle (or third)” is incompatible with the three-value relation of the, fully corresponding with reality, Aristotle's sequence without which there can not exist the “logic prudent” (reasonable)…”.


1. According to the government order, radio-sets and other radio systems (including amateur ones) were collected from the civil population for the war time. Notably, most of them were officially returned to the owners after the victory.

2. More on Sergey L'vovich Sobolev -

3.Edsger Wybe Dijkstra ( 11.05.1930–06.08.2002) was a Dutch computer scientist. He received the 1972 A .M. Turing Award for fundamental contributions in the area of programming languages,


  1. A brief biography based mainly on N.P. Brusentsov's personal comments. Composed by I.Vladimirova.
  2. G.Trogemann, A.Y. Nitussov, W. Ernst (Eds.) Computing in Russia” VIEVEG (Bertelsmann, Springer), Wiesbaden, 2001. – 350 p .
  3. B.N. MalinovskyComputer History in Persons” (on-line version in English translation)
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