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).

1964-01-01 00:00:00

Field Guide to Computers, Their Habits & Habitats

The April issue of The Magnet includes the first installment of “Field Guide to Computers, their Habits & Habitats, Part I: The Nature of the Beast.” The article, written by Jim Baker, acting head of Berkeley’s Mathematics and Computing Group, describes the four main parts of an automatic digital computer.

1964-07-01 00:00:00

Field Guide to Computers: The World of the Future

The November issue of The Magnet includes the final installment of “Field Guide to Computers, their Habits & Habitats, Part VII: The World of the Future,” in which Jim Baker looks at new developments in hardware and software and offers predictions on how they will influence how computers will be used in the future.

1964-10-01 00:00:00

A Pint-Sized Computer Revolutionizes Nuclear Physics

The November issue of The Magnet includes an article headlined “Computer-Centered Counting System Gives Fast Results.” The article begins: “A pint-sized but precocious computer no larger than an office desk is revolutionizing the way nuclear physics experiments are performed at Lawrence Research Laboratory, Berkeley accelerators” and describes how a PDP 5 is the core of a new data collection system.

1964-12-01 00:00:00

Luis Alvarez Receives National Medal of Science

On January 13, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson presented Luis Alvarez with the 1963 National Medal of Science for "his inspiring leadership in experimental high energy physics, continuing development of the bubble chamber, the discovery of many states of elementary particles, and his contributions to national defense."

1965-03-01 20:04:12

"Use the 6600!"

The October 18 issue of the Computer Center Newsletter leads with a short item headlined “Use the 6600!” The article reads “This Christmas, a new computer will be delivered to the Laboratory: will you be ready to use it? Start now: write a 6600 program and run it in Los Angeles! Be the first in your building to know what “MO” means!”

1965-12-01 00:00:00

CDC 6600 Delivered

On December 15, Lawrence Research Laboratory Berkeley took delivery of a CDC 6600 computer (serial number 9). The new machine is installed in building 50A and replaces the smaller of two IBM 7094 computers at the lab. The 6600 includes 131,000 words of memory, 10 tape drives, two high-speed printers, a card reader, a card punch, and an operating console.

1965-12-31 00:00:00

LRL General Electric 415 Computer Begins Full Operation

The December issue of The Magnet features a story headlined “New Bldg. 90 Computer Trims Red Tape.” The new “General Electric 415 computer began full operation in the Accounting Department’s Administrative Data Processing Center in Building 90 last month.”

1967-01-01 07:18:07

Computer Programmers at LRL

The March issue of The Magnet features a three-page article on “Computer Programmers at LRL” that recommends “Become a computer programmer and be the one who teaches the electronic circuits their jobs in the automated world around the corner.” The story notes that just 10 years ago this job classification didn’t exist. Programmers first appeared on lab employment rolls in 1958, and by the time the article appeared 90 were employed at LRL Berkeley.

1967-08-01 07:18:07

Chorin Introduces the Projection Method

Alexandre Chorin, a student at NYU’s Courant Institute, introduces the projection method as a way of efficiently computing the solutions of incompressible Navier-Stokes equations, which are certain partial differential equations that describe the motion of viscous fluid substances. Chorin later continues this research as a professor at UC Berkeley and scientist at LRL Berkeley. His methods have led to better aircraft and combustion designs, and a better understanding of how blood moves through the heart.

1968-02-01 19:32:02

Luis W. Alvarez Awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics

In October 1968, Luis Alvarez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the development of the hydrogen bubble chamber enabling the discovery of resonance states in particle physics. The award acknowledged contributions of data analysis and the application of computer technology to research in high energy physics.

1968-08-01 22:04:10

Bevatron Updated with a Computer-based Control System

Since its inception, the Bevatron has been an analog-controlled machine. In 1968, one of the control systems was converted to a small-computer-based digital control system because the External Proton Beam was to be expanded and the analog system couldn’t keep up. A system was designed and built to control up to 6h pulsed magnets on a PDP-6 with a tape transport. When the system was operational, a second PDF-8 was added as a backup computer.

1969-08-01 00:36:18

LRL Researchers Analyze the Capillary Phenomena

Paul Concus publishes “On the Behavior of a Capillary Surface in a Wedge.” The capillary effect is the process of a liquid flowing in a narrow space without the assistance of any external forces. The effect can be seen in the drawing up of liquids in a thin tube, in porous materials like paper, and a biological cell. It occurs because of intermolecular forces between the liquid and surrounding solid surfaces.

1969-08-01 22:04:10

LRL Receives First CDC 7600 - World’s Most Powerful Computer!

On January 27, Lawrence Research Lab (LRL), Livermore received the first-ever CDC 7600 computer, the world’s most powerful computer at the time. LRL Berkeley was scheduled to receive its 7600 in the fall of 1970.

1970-07-01 20:55:43

Creating a Pipeline for Women in Data Science

The October-November issue of The Magnet features a photo and article about eight young Berkeley women completing a basic course in data processing as part of the lab’s Affirmative Action Program. Of the eight trainees, either high school students or recent graduates, four found jobs in the field, including Clare Wilson who was hired as a computing assistant at the laboratory. The other four went on to continue their education.

1971-01-01 09:41:47

LRL Berkeley Signs MOU for CDC 7600

As part of the CDC 7600 contract, LRL Berkeley signed a memorandum of agreement with Control Data Corp. Once fully installed, the system would have 65,536 words (60 bits) of small core memory and 512,000 words of large core memory. The system used hydraulic read/write actuators, and a large pan of kitty litter was placed under the system to soak up oil leaks. Bryant Computer Products would provide hard disk storage.

1971-07-01 09:41:47

LRL Labs Separate from UC Berkeley

Established in 1952, Lawrence Radiation Lab (LRL) Livermore was created as a branch of LRL Berkeley to compete with the nuclear weapon design laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. LRL Livermore did most of the applied science work, including weapons development, allowing LRL Berkeley to focus on basic science research. When the Labs separated administratively from the UC Berkeley campus in 1971, classified research at the Berkeley Lab significantly diminished and ultimately ceased.

1972-02-01 22:27:51

A Computerized Diagnostic System

Research physician Thomas Budinger describes a new computerized diagnostic system at the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine. Developed over three years by scientists at the lab’s Donner Laboratory, Hewlett-Packard, and LBL Computation, the system can track blood flow through the heart and brain, myocardial infarctions, cystic fibrosis and blood clots in lungs, congenital heart defects in children, problems with kidney, liver and thyroid functions and changes in the size of bone tumors.

1973-01-01 22:27:51

The Case for a National Scientific Data Center at LBL

Bob Harvey wrote a white paper “For the Speedy Establishment of a National Scientific Data Center at LBL.” Noting that the CDC 7600 transformed the lab computing center from one used exclusively by LBL researchers to one with 70 percent of its users from outside the laboratory, Harvey called for a formal agreement between the Atomic Energy Commission and the General Services Administration establishing LBL as a National Scientific Data Center to procure future systems.

1974-01-01 22:27:51

First Supercomputer Connected to ARPANET

LBL’s CDC 6600, installed in 1965, became the first supercomputer connected to ARPANET, an early network that provided the technical foundation for the Internet. Connecting a high performance computing system to the network helped pave the way for today’s ubiquitous networked computing.

1974-03-01 11:13:55

AEC and GSA Agree on a Federal Scientific Data Processing Center at LBL

An interagency agreement is drafted between the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and the General Services Administration “for the operation of a federal scientific data processing center.” Dated May 6, 1974, the draft document states the center “will operate on a ‘fee for service’ basis, with reimbursable rates to cover all expenses, such as hardware, software, supplies and personnel.”

1974-07-01 11:13:55

Federal Scientific Data Processing Center Proposed

A draft proposal dated May 7, 1974, lays out the benefits to the Atomic Energy Commission of establishing a federal scientific data processing center at LBL, including the energy savings of providing centralized computing resources. A draft operating plan is also prepared.

1974-08-01 11:13:55

Business & Scientific Computing: A peaceful coexistence

On October 18, 1974, Bob Harvey presented an idea for LBL to use the same hardware to meet both business and scientific computing. He noted that some potential conflicts could involve peak loads, security and data integrity, operating systems, and hardware needs; and the key to avoiding such conflicts is getting people together to develop the ground rules and agree to stick to them.

1974-12-01 11:13:55

Coping with Administrative Problems in Resource Sharing

Bob Harvey presented a history of LBL’s Mathematics and Computing Department, how it “got into the resource sharing business,” and some of the administrative problems. One problem was that external users had no say in the difficulties in using systems from remote sites. So, LBL invited one user to join the Computer Advisory Committee (along with two non-voting observers), encouraged outside users to form a users group and formed an internal Users Services Group.

1975-02-01 21:55:42

On Large Scientific Computing Centers

Bob Harvey writes a 12-page white paper “On Large Scientific Computing Centers.” In his marked-up draft, he writes: “On the other hand, scientific research is so heavily dependent on computers nowadays that the subject is often discussed at a meeting made up mainly of research staff from one or more of the laboratories. As a matter of fact, the large research laboratories have played an important role in the development of present-day computer technology.”

1975-04-01 21:55:42

A Screening System to Reduce Death From Strokes and Heart Attacks

In the April issue of The Magnet, LBL biophysicist Frank Lingren demonstrates a computerized lipoprotein screening system “to accurately and automatically analyze minute plasma lipoprotein concentrations and perform the necessary computations.” Much faster than the current hand analysis, the researchers processed samples from 30 patients in 20 minutes. Developed by researchers at LBL’s Donner Lab, the system is aimed at reducing the death rate from heart attacks and strokes.

1975-06-20 09:09:38

Making Computers More Accessible to the Visually Handicapped

“Staff members in the lab’s Math and Computing Department are working on ways to make computers more accessible to the visually handicapped,” according to an article in the May-June issue of The Magnet. The project began with staff adapting equipment for use by Donald Belew, a blind programmer who joined LBL from Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. Belew was a member of the consulting staff at the lab’s computing center.

1975-11-20 09:09:38

Automatic Data Program Saves U.S. Government $25 Million

LBL received the First Annual ADP Sharing Award from the Region Nine General Services Administration for saving the U.S. government more than $25 million over four years. “How? By providing computer services to more than 400 federal agencies throughout the country, as part of the government-wide automatic data processing (ADP) resources sharing program,” according to an article in the May-June issue of The Magnet.

1976-02-01 21:55:42

Computer Science and Mathematics Becomes its Own Group

Robert Birge, associate director for Physics, Computer Science and Mathematics Division in a Jan. 23, 1976 memo: “To allow the Computer Science Program to have the necessary identity and representation, I am setting up this established discipline as a separate research group with Carl Quong as its head. This group, which will include Computer Science Research and Applications, Real Time Systems and Mathematics Research, will provide a stronger base to support the laboratory’s research programs.”

1976-07-01 21:55:42

Howard White Assumes Responsibility for System Performance Measurement and Analysis

The LBL Computer Center appoints Howard White to assume responsibility for more formal system performance measurement and analysis efforts. The move is prompted by both new federal legislation and a changing emphasis from batch computing to database management and interactive computing.

1976-11-30 22:27:50

LBL Supplements the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computer Workload

As more research sites gain remote access to the Controlled Thermonuclear Research Computer Center (now NERSC) at LLNL, the center’s CDC 7600 is at full capacity. Additional time is purchased on a CDC 7600 at LBL (jobs are driven by car to Berkeley in the evening, run overnight, and then returned to Livermore in the morning). Before the jobs ran, all LBL software, including the operating system, was removed as LLNL only wanted bare-metal hardware.

1977-02-01 10:41:32

LBL Becomes a Department of Energy Laboratory

On October 1, 1977, the Department of Energy Organization Act created the 12th cabinet-level and brought most Federal energy activities under one umbrella. DOE undertook responsibility for long-term, high-risk research and development of energy technology, Federal power marketing, energy conservation, the nuclear weapons program, energy regulatory programs, and a central energy data collection and analysis program.

1977-08-01 21:55:42

National Resource for Computational Chemistry Launches

The National Resource for Computational Chemistry (NRCC), a joint DOE/NSF endeavor, was established at LBL in October 1977. NRCC was a place where computational chemists could do things that weren’t possible in their own labs, like solving problems requiring the use of a supercomputer, and developing and standardizing new software for community-wide use. Some of NRCC’s greatest achievements included hosting workshops to solve well-defined problems in computational chemistry, like creating portable computer programs.

1978-07-01 10:41:46

Lab Staff Respond to Electronic Mail via ARPANET

Teleconferencing and telecommunications via the ARPANET are used extensively in collaborative research with DOE laboratory and university contractors in research planning and review management. In this picture, Carle Quong, CSAM Department Head, and Lesta Nadel, Administrator, respond to messages via electronic mail on the network.

1979-07-01 23:59:58

LBL Receives its First VAX Computers

LBL received its first VAX computers, made by Digital Equipment Corp. and introduced in 1977. The systems were part of a Department of Labor-funded project known as SEEDIS, for the Socio-Economic-Environmental Information System. SEEDIS was started to develop a demographic information system that continued for a number of years, evolving into a more general information system.

1980-07-15 12:46:02

A Numerical Microscope for Science

When a computer models a scientific problem, it breaks the model into a mesh of uniformly sized cells. But these uniform grids couldn’t accurately capture situations where small-scale features appear in multiple dimensions. So, NYU and LBL researchers developed adaptive mesh refinement (AMR) algorithms to create cells of different sizes and apply the smallest ones to the most interesting parts of the problem, allowing scientists to study those aspects in greater detail — like a numerical microscope.

1981-07-01 01:32:06

A Collaboration with HBCU Jackson State University

LBL and Jackson State University, one of the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), establish a collaborative research program to introduce students to research at the lab, including the use of computer facilities.

1982-02-01 02:04:14

Eight students from Jackson State University Arrive at LBL

The first group of eight students arrive in January 1982 from Jackson State University. Selected from the more than 600 students enrolled in computer science studies at the university, they work with the lab’s Computer Center and the Computer Operations and Real-Time Systems groups.

1982-05-17 13:18:09

MIDAS Computer Arrives

MIDAS (Modular Interactive Data Analysis System) arrives at LBL. The computer is a prototype to demonstrate the feasibility of parallel processing “to achieve a highly interactive, high-speed, graphics-oriented computing system,” according to an article in the Jan. 22, 1982 issue of the lab’s Currents newsletter. The machine is not intended to be a general-purpose computer and was built by the Nuclear Science Division with support from the Department of Instrument Science and Engineering.

1982-08-14 01:41:03

A Numerical Technique for Analyzing Turbulent Flow in Combustion

Alexandre Chorin introduces a numerical technique for analyzing turbulent flow associated with combustion. The method is applied to flow in a combustion tunnel where the flame is stabilized by a back-facing step. Solutions for both non-reacting and reacting flow fields were obtained, which satisfactorily described the essential features of turbulent combustion in a lean propane-air mixture observed in the laboratory using high-speed Schlieren photography.

1983-05-14 01:41:03

A Method for Simulating Shocks and Smooth Flows

Second-order extensions of Godunov’s method were developed at LBL and Lawrence Livermore Lab. These methods obtained high-resolution simulations in one or more spatial dimensions of complex combinations of shocks and smooth flows.

History of Computational Research and Mathematics @ Berkeley Lab

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