History of progress

IBM Research is the innovation engine of IBM. Nearly every game-changing breakthrough in the information technology industry has its roots in an IBM Research lab. And we’re primed to define the future of technology for many years to come.


Innovation engine
for IBM and the world

IBM Research has been a home for creative scientific minds since 1945, when Thomas J. Watson Sr. established the first corporate pure science research lab in the U.S . From helping the Apollo space missions land on the moon to the discovery of fractals; from the technology behind laser eye surgery to Watson, the first cognitive computing system now being applied to health care and many other industries, IBM Research shapes the future of technology.

Since our earliest days, we have valued and supported diversity and inclusion for its ability to enhance the quality and effectiveness of teams. Diversity -- of background, culture, gender, experience, expression and beyond -- is deeply rooted in our corporate character and our success.

The First Corporate Pure Science Research Lab

Thomas J. Watson Sr. established the Watson Scientific Computing Laboratory in temporary quarters at Columbia University in 1945. One year later, IBM researchers moved into a former fraternity house near the campus, pictured left. Here, a handful of the world’s top young scientists went to work using advanced computers to investigate everything from atomic fission to the orbit of the moon. From these humble beginnings emerged IBM Research. The lab’s unique connection with Columbia marked a new way of tapping into university talent and collaborating with academia.

Fractal Geometry

In 1967, IBM researcher Benoît Mandelbrot published the initial findings of what he would later describe as “fractal geometry” -- a concept that uses mathematical properties to describe the rough, non-Euclidean geometrical irregularities that exist in nature, from sea shells to spiral galaxies. Highly contested in its early years, this new way to perceive our reality and surroundings has since informed breakthroughs in biology, telecommunications, computer graphics and more. Mandelbrot is pictured here with a quintessential fractal pattern.

The Apollo Missions

ibmers working on nasa module

Four thousand IBM employees built the computers and wrote many of the complex software programs that launched the Apollo missions and guided them safely to Earth, including the historic 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon. Gene Kranz was the flight director on duty that historic day. He said, “without IBM and the systems they provided, we would not have landed on the Moon.” IBM has taken part in every U.S.-manned space effort in history.

Excimer Laser Surgery

ibmers with obama

In 1981, IBM scientists Rangaswamy Srinivasan, James Wynne and Samuel Blum discovered how the newly invented excimer laser could remove specific human tissue without harming the surrounding area and do so on an extremely minute scale, a process that became the foundation for LASIK and PRK surgery. The painless procedure, which changes the shape of the cornea, has improved the vision and quality of life for millions of people around the world. For their work, the scientists were recognized by President Obama in 2013 with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.


IBM Research opened the door to the world of nanoscience in 1981 when Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invented the scanning tunneling microscope, revolutionizing our ability to manipulate solid surfaces the size of atoms. Since that time, IBM has achieved many breakthroughs in the field, including the discovery and application of carbon nanotubes to increase chip speeds. In 2012, IBM scientists announced the creation of the world's smallest magnetic memory bit, made of just 12 atoms. To highlight the milestone, the scientists moved atoms by using their scanning tunneling microscope to make A Boy and His Atom: The World’s Smallest Movie.

IBM Deep Blue beats the world chess champion

On May 11, 1997, an IBM computer called IBM Deep Blue beat the world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, after a six-game match. The contest demonstrated important advances in computer science, furthering the ability of computers to handle the kinds of complex calculations needed to help discover new medical drugs; do the broad financial modeling needed to identify trends and do risk analysis; handle large database searches; and perform massive calculations. Today’s chess champions hone their moves by observing how computers approach the game, providing a model of how A.I. can augment human talent.

IBM Blue Gene

sam with obama

Over the past 100 years, high-end IBM machines have consistently ranked among the most powerful on the planet. When IBM Blue Gene was unveiled in 2004, it was both the most powerful supercomputer and the most efficient, consuming only a fraction of the energy and floor space of any other supercomputer. Developed and manufactured in collaboration with the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California as part of a US$100 million, five-year development effort driven by IBM Research, Blue Gene was originally built to help biologists observe the invisible processes of protein folding and gene development. In September 2009, President Barack Obama recognized IBM and the Blue Gene family of supercomputers with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.

Sustainable Cocoa


IBM Research, the United States Department of Agriculture and candy-maker Mars Inc. teamed up in 2008 to sequence the cocoa genome in an effort to help farmers grow tastier, more disease-resistant and more productive cocoa trees. The initial phase of work yielded a surprising result: identifying the genes that dictate the color of the plant may be the best indicator for better-tasting, healthier plants. Learnings from this endeavor are being applied today to safeguard the food supply chain worldwide, using algorithms to predict food dangers.

IBM’s Watson wins Jeopardy! Challenge

In February 2011, an IBM Research project took center stage when Watson competed against the reigning champs of TV quiz show Jeopardy! -- and won. At the time, Watson was a computer running software called Deep QA, an early form of machine learning and natural language processing. Today, Watson is the world’s first and most advanced AI platform. At IBM Research, we continue to advance Watson’s capabilities and build the future of AI, with the development of new software, applications and next-generation infrastructure.

IBM Quantum Experience

IBM Quantum computing

IBM has researched quantum computing for over 35 years. IBM Fellow and quantum information pioneer Charles Bennett, pictured, attended a physics conference in 1981 where Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman issued a challenge urging scientists to develop a new breed of computers based on quantum physics. Bennett accepted Feynman’s challenge, joining the quest to build a universal quantum computer. IBM Research continues to pursue this goal today. In 2016, IBM introduced the IBM Quantum Experience -- the first quantum computing platform on the cloud, enabling students, scientists and enthusiasts to explore the possibilities of quantum computing.

What is IBM Research disrupting today?