History of Computational Research and Mathematics @ Berkeley Lab

More than 70 years of Berkeley Lab’s storied history in computer science, computational science, data science, and mathematics is captured in this timeline − a legacy that even predates the Department of Energy’s inception. Beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, our researchers developed novel computational science techniques that led to the discovery of new particles in Luis Alvarez’s “Bubble Chamber.” They developed mathematical methods that have led to better aircraft and combustion designs, improved semiconductor processing and medical imaging, and more. And did you know that one of the world’s first video-conferencing and live-streaming applications—the Multicast Backbone (MBONE)—was invented by Lab researchers in the 1990s? These are just some of the breakthroughs represented on this timeline.

This project was compiled from a collection of memos, newsletters, photographs, reports, and recollections, many from the family of Robert “Bob” Harvey and former Lab employees Bill Benson, Bill Johnston, and Richard Friedman. Many current employees also contributed to this project. ;xNLx;;xNLx;The content was assembled by Jon Bashor and the Berkeley Lab Computing Sciences Communications team.

1950-01-02 00:00:00

Birth of Computational Science at the Lab

John Killeen, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, is a research assistant in Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (LRL) Berkeley’s theoretical physics group and heads up the laboratory’s first small computation staff. In 1957, Killeen moves to LRL Livermore and in 1974 was named the first director of the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computer Center, later known as NERSC.

1955-01-01 00:00:00

A New Era in High Energy Physics

In 1955, Luis Alvarez opened a new era in high-energy physics by proposing to build a “bubble chamber” for discovering and analyzing new particles. He was among the first to suggest analyzing experimental data with computers. When Alvarez’s vision was realized in the 1960s, computers tracked some 1.5 million particle events annually. His team also developed novel scientific computing techniques that were adopted by researchers globally. Alvarez received the 1968 Nobel Prize for Physics.

1958-01-01 00:00:00

KICK Program Propels Physics into High Gear

Computer programmer Robert “Bob” Harvey wrote the KICK 1 program using data on IBM punch cards. KICK was designed to help researchers determine which subatomic particles made observed tracks in a bubble chamber event. After joining the lab in 1957, Harvey designed and implemented digital computer programs to solve a variety of scientific and engineering problems. He made several significant contributions to the lab’s computing capabilities over the years.

1958-08-01 00:00:00

Rad Lab named in Honor of Ernest Lawrence

Just 23 days after Ernest Orlando Lawrence’s death on August 27, 1958, the Regents of the University of California voted to rename two of the university's “Rad Labs” in his honor: Lawrence Radiation Lab Berkeley and Lawrence Radiation Laboratory Livermore.

1959-01-01 00:32:08

LAZI Program Tracks Particle Angles

Computer programmer Robert “Bob” Harvey writes LAZI, a program similar to KICK, making the first-order correction in determining the angle of particles in the bubble chamber.

1960-02-20 13:08:59

Computing Propels Discovery at the Bubble Chamber

When Luis Alvarez’s “Bubble Chamber” became a reality, computers tracked some 1.5 million particle events annually. The events were measured either on stage microscopes, with digitizers that automatically punched IBM cards, or on a "Frankenstein" automatic measuring and card-punching machine. The machines measured the original position of an event and several points along each track, then the data was sent to an IBM 704 for computation of the characteristics of the event.

1960-12-01 00:00:00

IBM Gets Some Competition in Scientific Computing

David Stevens joins the Physics Division’s Math and Computing Group. Stevens worked on a range of early IBM computers. When IBM introduced the 360, Stevens wrote that it was unsuitable for scientific work and pushed the labs to adopt the Control Data Corporation (CDC) 6600 designed by Seymour Cray. During a factory test, the 6600 finished the job significantly faster than its IBM competitor. The demonstration persuaded the Atomic Energy Commission to buy CDC machines.

1961-08-01 00:00:00

KICK Program Described in Scientific Instruments

J. Peter Berge and Frank T. Solmitz of Lawrence Radiation Lab, Berkeley, and Horace D. Taft of Yale University publish the paper “Kinematical Analysis of Interaction Vertices from Bubble Chamber Data,” which describes KICK, “a high-speed computer program for the kinematical analysis of bubble chamber events.” The paper appeared in the May 1961 issue of The Review of Scientific Instruments.

1962-03-01 00:00:00

A Program to Solve Maximum-Likelihood Method

A paper by Fernand Grard of the Lawrence Radiation Lab describes MALIK, a computer program that analyzes experimental data by use of the maximum-likelihood method, a statistical approach that can be used to search a space of possible distribution and parameters. MALIK was written for the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory’s IBM 709 and 7090 computers.

1962-08-01 00:00:00

A Method to Discover New and Short-Lived Particles

An article in the August issue of The Magnet, Lawrence Radiation Lab’s (LRL) newsletter, describes a meeting at CERN where LRL researchers presented “encouraging progress reports” on the development of two data-reduction devices (the Flying Spot Digitizer and the Scanning-Measuring Projector) for discovering new particles and resonances (short-lived particle states).

History of Computational Research and Mathematics @ Berkeley Lab

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